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From Farm to Table

A Feast to Celebrate!
Mexico, Nayarit<br/> <em>House Group</em>, 200 BCE–400 CE<br/> Ceramic, pigment<br/> Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The John R. Van Derlip Fund
  Mexico, Nayarit
House Group, 200 BCE–400 CE
Ceramic, pigment
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The John R. Van Derlip Fund


In this two-story house, people are shown feasting with their ancestors. How do you honor your ancestors?

Two thousand years ago, the people of Nayarit, in what is now western Mexico, believed the dead lived just below ground, separated only by a thin barrier from the world of the living. Sculptures depicting familiar activities were buried with deceased family members, to keep them company in the afterlife. This two-story ceramic house is such a tomb sculpture. A family on the upper level (the world of the living) is enjoying a feast with their ancestors, who occupy the lower level (the realm of the dead). Some in the upstairs group are gathered around a plate of food—likely corn or tamales—while others relax outside. The figures below echo those above, with similar postures and their own bowl of food.

Feasts were a central part of life in ancient Mesoamerica. People held feasts to celebrate major life events, to forge political and economic bonds, and to honor the dead. The various feasts corresponded to the seasons and often featured foods such as corn and tamales. At all levels of society, ritual feasts were occasions for honoring people and displaying status. Rulers reinforced their power by throwing huge feasts for their subjects. And feasting maintained and strengthened family ties among the living and the dead.

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1. In this painting, John Singer Sargent captured an intimate birthday celebration with his own close friends. How do you celebrate your birthday? John Singer Sargent, American, 1856–1925, The Birthday Party, 1887, oil on canvas, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The Ethel Morrison Van Derlip Fund and The John R. Van Derlip Fund
2. Weddings are great occasions for feasting. This tapestry, woven of wool and silk and silver yarns, pictures a 16th-century wedding banquet out in the country. Northern France, Flanders, or Holland, Country Wedding, first half of 17th century, wool, silk, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, bequest of John R. Van Derlip in memory of Ethel Morrison Van Derlip


May 2013