Monday, April 27, 2015

This organic tomato sauce may or may not contain severed head

My friend Gord sent me a link from Good that points out a pretty hilarious packaging gaffe. Or is it?

Tropical Traditions, originally a coconut oil importer in the US, has branched out into organic packaged foods. One of them is an Italian pasta sauce line, with labels showing women from Renaissance Italian paintings.

Organic Spicy Tomato & Roasted Garlic, for example, features Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, but without the breasts:

Organic Tomato & Basil uses Raphael's Woman with the Veil:

Organic Tomato and Grilled Eggplant gets one of my favourite portraits, Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo:

OK, the weasel is a little weird for a food label. (Assuming the sauce doesn't have much weasel in it.) 

But let's move on to the final jar, Organic Tomato & Porcini Mushroom:

What is with that woman's face, anyway? She doesn't look too impressed. Perhaps we should have a look at the uncropped painting, which is Caravaggio's... Judith Beheading Holofernes?!?

That's right, it's a decapitation. In the apocryphal Book of Judith, the eponymous heroine is a righteous Hebrew who saves Israel by talking her way into the tent of Assyrian general Holofernes, then hacking off his head after he passes out drunk. Since Christians love them a good grisly death, this scene has been portrayed by several artists over the centuries.

But why choose it for a food label? Especially a food that itself kind of resembles gore?

There is no way the designer was unaware of the painting's context, as she or he would have had to research a public domain version of the whole work from which to crop the label.

In fact, I believe what we are seeing here is a clever little prank. A designer who counted on his or her client to be ignorant of the source material. The Botticelli and Leonardo portraits are well-known enough that they probably sold the idea of using Renaissance Italian paintings of women to give the sauces a note of "old-world authenticity." But a severed head, spouting arterial blood, is probably one of the last things I want to think about when I pour this on my spaghetti.

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