Dine & Wine

Chocolate in Painting for a Cozy Evening

Magda Michalska 22 December 2021 min Read

Although December has been extremely warm this year, I still crave a good old hot chocolate and a cozy evening under the blankets. We present to you a short story of this sweet beverage with a rather bitter history… Hot chocolate in painting everybody!

Chocolate’s history began 4,000 years ago in Mesoamerica. The first civilizations of Latin America turned cacao beans into a beverage used in rituals or as medicine.

The Gift for Strangers

Salvador Dalí, Casanova, Cup of hot Chocolate
Salvador Dalí, Casanova, Cup of Chocolate, 1967, private collection. Dali Paris.

For Maya peoples, chocolate meant ‘Food of the Gods’, and although all social classes of ancient Maya civilization could drink it, it was mostly reserved solely for the priests and the elite of their society. Therefore, when Columbus arrived in 1502 on Guanaja island on his fourth voyage, he was offered cocoa (cacao) beans. Little did they know what was about to happen to them in the hands of those strangers- in the 16th century the Spaniards colonized the Mesoamerican region belonging to the Maya peoples and destroyed their cultural heritage along with screenfold books with recorded history and knowledge of the Maya civilization.

Fashion for the Kings

Giuseppe Bonito, Infanta Maria Josefa of Spain, 1759, Galeria Caylus, Madrid, Spain.

Columbus’ contemporaries were rather wary of the bitter taste of cocoa. Due to colonial expansion of the Spaniards and Portuguese, and later the Dutch, chocolate reached continental Europe. It was first introduced to the Spanish court where it was mixed with sugar, honey, and vanilla, making the drink fashionable for aristocratic families, though the Spanish kept it secret for a while from the rest of Europe. Yet, when something becomes popular it is bound to be documented; hot chocolate showed up in a painting for the first time in the 17th century. Here we can see Infanta Maria Josefa of Spain, daughter of the Spanish King Charles III, portrayed with her two favorite things: her puppy, and a cup of hot chocolate.

Good Morning Sweetie

Pietro Longhi, Morning Chocolate, mid-18th century, Ca’ Rezzonico (Museo del Settecento), Venice, Italy.

As it’s a powerful and energetic drink, hot chocolate quickly became a typical breakfast of aristocrats. Accompanied by a glass of water and a sweet pastry, it provided a positive boost for a tiring day of socializing and networking.

Jean-Etienne Liotard, Breakfast, 1754, Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany.

Hot Chocolate Bath?

Lady with Hot Chocolate in a Bath, 18th century. Pittura Omnia.

The morning chocolate routine usually began in bed, as Pietro Longhi‘s portrayal of Venetian high society shows. Yet this anonymous work proves that one could drink chocolate anywhere, even in a bath. What can be more indulgent than that?!

From Painting to Advertising

Jean-Etienne Liotard, A Lady Pouring Chocolate or A Dutch Girl at Breakfast, c. 1744, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Jean-Etienne Liotard, a Swiss painter, created an entire series dedicated to ladies drinking or serving hot chocolate. For example, the painting below, showing a maid serving a cup of hot chocolate and a glass of water, was considered a masterpiece by Liotard’s contemporaries and it inspired many copyists to make replicas. Later, when hot chocolate became even more popular, the image inspired advertisements on Droste’s (a Dutch chocolate manufacturer) cocoa tins.

Jean-Etienne Liotard, Chocolate Girl, 1754, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, Germany.

Jan Misset, Droste’s Cacao, 1904. Wikimedia Commons.

Fashion for the Fashionable

Raimundo de Madrazo, Hot Chocolate, mid-19th century, private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

With the passage of time and the rise of trade, chocolate production sped up and further spread across Europe. Not only did the higher classes drink it, but the bourgeoisie could afford it as well.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Cup of Chocolate, 1878, private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

Food for the Soldiers

Marcel Duchamp, Chocolate Grinder, 1904, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA, USA.

The Industrial Revolution even further industrialized the production of chocolate. As a result, during World War I, food rations for soldiers contained chocolate bars for breakfast.


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