The Last Supper

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci was produced in 1495-1498 and is considered to be one of the famous artworks of Renaissance Art movement. The work can be viewed now at Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan

 

Medium: Oil Painting 

Subject(s): betrayal, feast
 

 

The Last Supper is a painting produced in three years 1495-1498. by Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci.

One of the most representative and analyzed masterpieces of The Renaissance and has considered as one of the most controversial works of all time. It’s one of the most recognizable pieces of art in history.

This dining room mural depicts one of the most well-known moments of the New Testament.

It’s been the source of heated debates on religion, history, art, and conspiracy theories. It’s narrowly avoided destruction time and time again

The painting was commissioned for refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria Delle Grazie by Ludovico Sforza Il Moro, Duke of Milan and patron of artists.

The Last Supper of Jesus and his twelve disciples is a universal Gospel theme and the painting composition is extraordinary since it does not reveal betrayal at first sight.

The anxiety of each disciple is carefully characterized bar one in the shadow – Judas, who is holding a bag with money and grabbing the bread at the same time as Jesus.

The way of grouping disciples and rather a feminine look of Apostle John has inspired many controversial theories about the painting.

Almost nothing of the original painting is left due to the usage of the special mural techniques.

Who painted The Last Supper?

The Last Supper is a painting produced in three years 1495-1498. by Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci – a major contributor of the renaissance art movement. Check out the top characteristic of renaissance art that changed the world forever

The Last Supper Story – A Moment of Drama

The story is simple – It’s dinner.

So, what exactly are we looking at?

The title tells us, sure; it’s the Last Supper.

Let’s understand the meaning and analysis of The Last Supper

Even if you are not a Christian, odds are you’ll be familiar with the sequence of events recorded in all four of the New Testament gospels.

It is, as the name suggests, the last meal that Jesus shared with his followers before his execution.

That description, however, only starts to cover what the painting captures. There are some serious emotion and drama here.

To start with, let’s take another look at that scene description.

The last meal Jesus is ever going to have, with the people that love him, before he is arrested and executed.

Now, that’s a pretty heavy set up and can go some way to explain the drama of Da Vinci’s scene.

Jesus is, appropriately, at the center of the composition.

He is still and appears to be downcast (as I’m sure most people would be, in that situation.) Moving out from the center of the scene, however, you can see that the rest of the table is not in such a cool and collected frame (pardon the pun) of mind.

This is because Da Vinci did something that no-one else had ever done.

While this scene had been painted many, many times, the scenes had always been quiet, somber, and reflective, focusing only on Jesus’ holiness and divinity. Da Vinci chose to focus on a more human aspect of the evening.

Here’s how it goes: Jesus tells his friends he’s going to die. He’s told them this several times already, so the reaction isn’t that strong. It’s possible they don’t believe him, given their reactions later in the story, but let’s not get off track.

Then he hits them with the big news. He is going to die because one of them is going to betray him.

One of his best friends, one of the twelve specially chosen disciples, is going to turn him into the authorities. Someone at this very table.

Cue drama.

Everyone freaks out.

What we are looking at is a group of men who have lived and worked with one another for three years, just finding out that one of them is a traitor. And that’s the moment that Da Vinci chose to capture. The heat of the moment, anger, confusion, fear.

People question each other in clusters, pointing in accusation, gesturing wildly, reeling with grief. To the left,  the figure of Judas, the betrayer, sits shadowed and surrounded by his friends.

And in the center of it all, someone who knows that as soon as they leave this room they will begin a journey that leads to their death. That’s some pretty heavy subject matter, and  Da Vinci managing to do it justice is one of the reasons this painting has remained as iconic as it is.

The Characters in The Last Supper

last-supper-da-vinco-character-names

The Last Supper Painting Characters- Picture Courtesy Visual Arts Cork

Left to right – The characters represented in the Last Supper painting are

  • Group 1 – Bartholomew, James, son of Alphaeus, and Andrew
  • Group 2 – Judas Iscariot, Peter, and John
  • Jesus
  • Group 3- Thomas, James the Greater, and Philip
  • Group 4 – Matthew, Jude Thaddeus, and Simon the Zealot

The Last Supper – Hidden Details

There are a number of hidden details within the painting that you can spot if you know what to look for.

To begin with, the meal is a little off-menu. The Last Supper is the meal on which Christian communion is based – bread and wine only.

But the meal Da Vinci depicted includes a dish of fish and oranges. This dish has been subject to a ton of debate. Some claim that the fish are eels, and therefore represent faith and indoctrination.

Others claim the fish are herring, which would symbolize a nonbeliever. Or maybe Leonardo figured that they’d all have been eating fish, what with all the ex-fishermen about. Who knows?

There is another food metaphor up for debate.

Have you ever heard of spilled salt meaning bad luck, or some kind of evil foreshadowing?

It’s an old superstition and one that Da Vinci may have referenced with his dining set up. There is a salt cellar lying on the table, having been knocked over – by the one and only Judas, as he reaches forward for the food at the same time as Jesus.

This motion is another detail from the original scene when Jesus claimed that his betrayer had just had his hand in the same dish as Jesus.

There have been suggestions made that some of the faces at the table mean more than just their models – although the rumor that Da Vinci used a real-life criminal to model for Judas has been disproved.

However, some have pointed out that the face of James the Less (second from the left) bears a striking resemblance to Mr. L. Da Vinci… hmm.

Artistic Legacy and The Historical Importance

Besides its dramatic content, the Last Supper is remembered for a number of historical reasons.

It was a commissioned work, set to be painted on the wall of the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria Delle Grazie. The refectory was, essentially, the dining room, thus making the subject matter particularly suitable.

Although this is something of a step up from the menu wall-art of modern-day establishments.

The composition of the painting is universally recognized as an amazing artistic feat.

To begin with, the use of perspective is incredible. Da Vinci chose to heighten the effect of the long table scene by using a one-point linear perspective, meaning that all the lines of perspective have to move towards the same single vanishing point.

That vanishing point? Jesus’ head.

You can see this most easily by following the lines of the windows behind the table.

This keeps the image focused on Jesus while still allowing attention to be drawn by the engaging emotional scenes which take up the whole length of the foreground.

The depiction of the scene itself is also looked at as an impressive technical accomplishment.

There are thirteen figures present; the figure of Jesus is at the center of the frame, forming a triangle.

Surrounding him, the twelve disciples are grouped together in threes. Each of the figures has its own distinct stance, fitting in with those surrounding it to carry the movement of the scene from one end of the table to the other. Even though the movements being made – hand gestures, people leaning forward – are large, even eye-catching, none of them draw attention more than the others.

The scene is perfectly balanced.

Realism is also maintained, despite the challenge of the one-point perspective.

The positions of the disciples are natural, energetic, giving the emotion of the scene a ring of truth; real models were used in order to properly capture the drama of the moment.

Even the colors are more varied than one would normally find in a similar painting, allowing Da Vinci to capture the scene with the subtlety he wanted.

These colors, however, lead us to yet another intriguing piece of information about the painting… its near-destruction.

A Tale of Survival

The fact that it is still possible to see this painting today (provided you are willing to book way in advance) is something close to a full-on miracle.

There has been a lot going against it – from the moment it was created, starting with the artist himself.

Let’s back up a little.

The Last Supper was commissioned as a fresco.

You might recognize that term as referring to a painting done on a wall, which it usually is. But it also refers to a specific method of painting.

The artist would apply wet plaster to the wall, then add pigment to the plaster before it dried, meaning the painting would pretty much-become part of the wall.

The problem with this is that the artist had to work really fast to get what he wanted down before the plaster dried – and the color would end up looking kind of flat. Da Vinci decided that, for his vision, he needed the versatility and expression of oil paint.

He decided to use a mix of tempera and oil paints instead, to allow himself much more freedom.

And it worked – to start with. He was able to make changes as he went, perfecting the astonishing scene in all its detail.

He may even have wondered why he was the first one to ever try this… he found out soon enough, however, when the paint started drying.

And flaking off. He’d primed the wall beforehand, but it just wasn’t enough for the unsuitable paints and the humid climate.

So, people took really-extra special care of it, right?

To make sure this masterpiece lasted for years to come?

Yeah, not so much. Throughout the hundreds of years that followed, the painting was damaged over and over again.

Some of the damage was, sadly, caused by those who attempted to restore the artwork. Another damage was accidental, or even malicious.

There were the French soldiers who, fresh from the French Revolution, decided to relieve their French Revolutionary feelings by vandalizing the wall.

Then there was the time a curtain was hung in front of the painting, only to rub off more of the paint.

And the time someone decided that the new door to the refectory should be placed in the middle of the mural wall, removing Jesus’ feet.

And then there was the time the church was bombed in world war two – although the wall had fortunately been protected beforehand.

All these damages, coupled with the struggles to keep the original image intact in the first place, mean that most of the painting is not in its original form.

While historians and scholars have worked for years on whether the much-repaired present-day image lives up to the original, it is perhaps telling that, well, they’re still debating it.

Something to Remember

While not quite so famous as his Mona Lisa, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper is one of the most reproduced and discussed works in art history.

From the originality of its composition to the tragic damages and decay that plagued it, to the hotly debated potential meaning behind every grain of salt, it maintains its relevance in the present day: forever memorable, and forever remembered.

The work can be viewed at the Convent of Santa Maria Delle Grazie, Milan, Italy.

 

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