Bread, The Artists' Muse

An Advertorial Feature

Bread has not only been one of the basic foods for over 10,000 years, but it has also been the inspiration for many writers, painters, poets, songwriters and playwrights.

Throughout the centuries, throughout the globe, we’ve consumed bread. The first bread made from wheat reportedly goes back to the Neolithic Age, around 8,000BC. Herodotus writes about the social and financial significance that bread had acquired in ancient Egypt, mentioning that it was even used as a monetary value, in order to acquire other products. The Egyptians went to the lengths of burying their dead with a loaf of bread in the tomb to ensure their loved-ones were provided for in the after-life.  In the British Museum you will find a loaf of Egyptian bread that dates over 4,000 years.

In art, even the most radical of painters have preoccupied themselves with the subject of bread. Salvador Dali’s ‘Bread Basket’, Van Gogh’s ‘Plate with Bread’ portray bread as their only theme, while Millet’s ‘Woman Baking Bread’ and Caravaggio’s famous ‘Supper at Emmaus’ represent the importance of bread in daily and community life.

In literature, Victor Hugo’s masterpiece ‘Les Miserables’ is the story of a man, Jean Valjean, who although incredibly hostile against society for punishing him to 19 years of prison for stealing a loaf of bread decides to put the past behind him and begins a long struggle to live like an honest man. Bread here becomes a constant reminder of injustice. In Chaucer’s famous ‘Pardoner’s Tale’, three men draw straws to decide who will fetch the bread and wine. An ironic symbol of unity since all three are plotting to kill each other and all find death at the end of the story.

Such is the cultural importance of bread that even religions around the world use it as one of their most powerful symbols. In Christianity it represents the body of Christ, in the Hebrew faith, matzah (a cracker-like bread) acts as a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt, which happened in such urgency that they couldn’t wait for the bread to fully rise. In Islam, Muslim kids are taught from a young age to respect and value the bread that is given to them, as it may one day be their only source of nutrition.

So, next time you pick up a loaf of bread, remember the significance of what you are holding in your hands. You never know, when our antecedents visit the British Museum in 2,000 years’ time, they may be looking at a loaf of Hovis Granary, Soft White or Seed Sensations.