Academic thesis

Gesine Betz: Art and cultural objects made of "butter". Chronology, art technology and cultural-historical context. Back
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Abstract: When and where have works of fine art and cultural objects made of "butter" existed? The master´s thesis investigates this question about edible fats in works of art and applied arts for selected geographical regions. For this purpose, the occurrence of art and cultural objects made of edible fats is examined in chronological order.
Since the basic requirement for the use of "butter" is the knowledge and skill of production. Therefore, the cultural-historical development and the socio-economic significance of the foodstuff will be discussed in order to clarify since when animal butter has been documented in which geographical region.
The master thesis shows that the use of butter or its surrogates as a material for the creation of cultural objects and works of art is documented from the Middle Ages to contemporary art.
In sacred ceremonies in Buddhism, yak butter is used as offerings and as fuel for sacrificial lamps. In addition, Tibetan monks form mandalas from dyed butter, decorate offering cakes with decorative elements made of butter, and make butter sculptures for the annual "Butter Sculpture Festival."
In the Western world, sculptures made of butter have been used as decoration for aristocratic table banquets from the Renaissance to the Baroque. After that, butter sculptures only appeared again at the end of the 19th century, mainly in North America, as advertising and marketing objects of the dairy industry.
In the fine arts, edible fats have been used as a material since the 1960s, with Joseph Beuys making the most consequent use of fats in his work genesis. The contemporary artist Sonja Alhäuser, for example, creates baroque-like sculptures made of butter. Presented in refrigerated display cases, they show the transience and fragility of the material.
Finally, the limits and possibilities of conservation and restoration of works of art made from edible fats will be demonstrated by means of selected case studies.


  • academic institution: Europa-Universität Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder)
  • kind of theses:  Masterarbeit
  • main Tutor:  Prof. Dr.-Ing. P. Paul Zalewski, M.A.
  • assistant Tutor:  Dr. Ute Stehr, Dipl. Rest.
  • date:  2019
  • Language:  German
  • pages:  119
  • pictures:  61

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