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Cézanne’s Still Life Madeleines Story

Madeleines are scalloped shell-shaped French butter cakes that are popular during breakfast or for a goûter (snack).

The cakes have been popular for centuries, but even now there is debate about where they first came from. Some say madeleines were created in the nighteenth century by French pastry chef Jean Avice, but others hold to an older tale, a legend of a young girl in the eighteenth century named Madeleine. It is said that Madeleine had a pastry shop but only knew how to make her grandmother’s butter cake recipe. One day King Louis XV visited the Lorraine region, and when he visited her shop, she presented him with the cakes. King Louis took the madeleines back to Versailles, and they were soon beloved by the French court.

Discussing the madeleines in Cézanne’s famous painting, Professor Wise said, “Art and food have a long, shared history". Ancient Egyptian tombs secured food offerings for the dead by painting bounteous piles of grain, meat, and wine on the walls. Islamic depictions of paradise abound with fruit trees, and Christian altarpieces use images to represent the mystery of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharistic bread and wine. During the seventeenth century, Dutch artists excelled in fastidious renderings of lemons, oysters, and cuts of meat. Paul Cézanne’s Still Life with Basket of Apples (c. 1895) builds on that tradition but with a modernist twist as the shifting planes of the table experiment with notions of time and relativity.

Submitted by Professor Elliot Wise, Comparative Arts and Letters

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