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The Past Supper

April 19, 2011

The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago is an icon of feminist art.

Image Credit: The Salvador Dali Society

The Dinner Party represents 1,038 women in history—39 women are represented by place settings and another 999 names are inscribed in the Heritage Floor on which the table rests. This monumental work of art is comprised of a triangular table divided by three wings, each 48 feet long.

Broken dishes

Image Credit: Red Crow Arts

The principal component of The Dinner Party is a massive ceremonial banquet arranged in the shape of an open triangle—a symbol of equality—measuring forty-eight feet on each side with a total of thirty-nine place settings. The “guests of honour” commemorated on the table are designated by means of intricately embroidered runners, each executed in a historically specific manner. Upon these are placed, for each setting, a gold ceramic chalice and utensils, a napkin with an embroidered edge, and a fourteen-inch china-painted plate with a central motif based on butterfly and vulvar forms. Each place setting is rendered in a style appropriate to the individual woman being honored.

Wing One of the table begins in prehistory with the Primordial Goddess and continues chronologically with the development of Judaism; it then moves to early Greek societies to the Roman Empire, marking the decline in women’s power, signified by Hypatia’s place setting. Wing Two represents early Christianity through the Reformation, depicting women who signify early expressions of the fight for equal rights, from Marcella to Anna van Schurman. Wing Three begins with Anne Hutchinson and addresses the American Revolution, Suffragism, and the movement toward women’s increased individual creative expression, symbolized at last by Georgia O’Keeffe.

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Georgia O'Keeffe place setting, The Dinner Party

Image Credit: Brooklyn Museum

The Dinner Party rests upon the Heritage Floor and is comprised of 2,300 hand-cast porcelain tiles and provides both a structural and metaphorical support for The Dinner Party table. Inscribed in gold luster are the names of 999 mythical and historical women of achievement, who were selected to contextualize the 39 women represented in the place settings and to convey “how many women had struggled into prominence or been able to make their ideas known—sometimes in the face of overwhelming obstacles—only (like the women on the table) to have their hard-earned achievements marginalized or erased”.

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2 comments

  1. I loved seeing this artwork when I was in NY a couple of years ago. It’s stunning!


  2. Funny, I had a feeling you had seen it in person.



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