The Last Supper of Leonardo, Easter topic which is Never Enough

Religion and Art

Religious themes are an inseparable subject in most early art paintings. Because the Church has been the patron of art in past centuries, it is not surprising that the religious subject was one of the most frequently undertaken by artists. In the Middle Ages, the artists were creating only on religion and for God topics, and then from the Renaissance to modern times, this relationship between art and the church has gradually disappeared.

At present, painters who referring to biblical scenes are very rarely encountered, and this subject has become a kind of a separate niche. It cannot be concealed, however, that one of the greatest masterpieces of art arose from the Biblical inspiration.

All the New Testament’s themes strongly influenced the imagination of painters. At the same time, they were also an inspiration to communicate various contents, meanings, and symbols directly related not only to the topic itself but also indirectly to the existence of every human being. Such subjects as treason, pain, suffering, sacrifice, redemption, and victory accompany man on various levels of his existence and in various dimensions.

The Last Supper - Facts

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The most famous painting connected with the Easter subject is, of course, the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. Almost every year, new revelations and appear.

Amateurs and experts, they can’t get enough and still continuing to discover new meanings. The new chapters of the Last Supper are being opened every year. No wonder, eventually, that great artwork came out of the genius hands.

All known facts are that the Last Supper, or Il Cenacolo, is a fresco made by Leonardo da Vinci. The mural was created in the years 1495-1498. Its dimensions are impressive – 4.60 m to 8.80 m. Leonardo created it commissioned by Prince Ludovico Sforza, the fresco was made for the dining room of the Dominican monastery, in the Basilica of Santa Maria Delle Grazie, in Milan.

From my point of view, such valuable work should be immediately hung in the museum under special protection. I write this with a pinch of salt, but the fact remains that at the time when Leonardo created a fresco, was the same as for us buy a decoration to match the colour of the sofa. Of course, an exclusive sofa, because only such sofas could have the prince of Milan.

In the Last Supper, the artist used an innovative technique, which unfortunately proved to be unstable and despite the repeated renovations (21 years of renovation), the fresco is still in a very poor condition. Some people suggest that it is the attempts of restorations have done more harm to the artwork than the time. It can be easily counted that the renovation lasted longer than the process of painting the fresco.

Leonardo used the technique of combining tempera and oil paint. This allowed him to paint on dry plaster and what it involves – a slow refinement of details. He tried to find the intermediate way between the drying time of oil paints and tempera. The paints were put directly on the primed wall and not as it was before – on a wet surface.

The humidity of the air present in the Dominican monastery was not good for the fresco. Another element that contributed to the destruction of the work of art was the forging in 1652 of the door to the monastery kitchen, thus permanently damaging the fragment of Jesus’ feet and part of the table.

Other consequences and damages were during the Napoleonic wars, the stationing of the soldiers in Mediolan who organized the stable inside the monastery. I hope that the horses appreciated the surroundings of the artwork because the soldiers apparently did not. Unfortunately, looking on fresco damages, I am sure that artwork did not do well in this company either. The Second World War, in turn, and the bombing destroyed the part of the refectory.

The Last Supper - What it really represents?

In general, the Last Supper represents the apostles surrounding Christ and eating the last meal together. According to Christian tradition, this is the moment of the first Eucharist consumed in the form of bread and wine. However, in the Last Supper Leonardo Da Vinci illustrates this part of the New Testament:

“[…] After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.” His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.” (John 13, 21-24).

Leonardo introduced Saint Peter and Saint John who banded over towards each other. They are talking behind Judas. That is the way in which he describes the text of the Gospel. Peter, according to the text, could not sit next to Christ, although he was the successor of Jesus. Therefore, at the right hand of Jesus, Leonardo painted John.

Holy Trinities on the Fresco

All the apostles are depicted in trinities. On the left of Jesus, we see the figures of John, Peter and Judas. The next three are Bartłomiej, Jakub Mniej and Andrzej.

At the right hand of Jesus, the first three are Thomas, James the Greater and Philip the Apostle. Next to them, engaged in a discussion, were sitting Mateusz-Lewi, or later Matthew the Evangelist, and Szymon and Tadeusz.

Last Supper Trinities

Jesus sits in the middle as a central figure. His character symbolizes succumb and acceptance of the inevitable. Jesus divides the table and interlocutors into two parts. Interpreters of Leonardo’s artworks convince us that everything on the left side of the table is all that concerns divine thinking, and everything the right side takes place on human grounds.

He combines these two approaches. The figure of Jesus focuses the viewer’s attention. It is static compared to live gesticulating apostles. The very figure of Jesus is inscribed in an equilateral triangle.

Dalia Split Left
Dalia Split Right

Why is it a Masterpiece?

From an artistic point of view, what impresses in the depicted scene is the mastery of the perspective that Leonardo used. The interior on the painting is an illusionistic extension of the monastery’s dining room.

All lines connecting the heads of the apostles, tapestries and beams would all converge in the person of Christ.

The artist expertly introduced the depth of the refectory. Leonardo, as an inquisitive researcher, was not only an artist but also an inventor, researcher. He sought to paint the space between objects. He tried to recreate a 3d effect on a flat surface. He studied with mathematical accuracy all the issues to present the depth. He was designing the composition based on the legacy of the great Greek geometers.

Last supper perfect lines

Everyone, regardless of their knowledge of art, can admire the illusion of perspective. Also, the way in which he showed the characters. Their naturalness and realism. The viewer can feel like a participant in the scene he is looking at. Characters are not rigidly posed, they are not embellished, everything has the dimension of a real event taking place.

Looking at the fresco, we can almost feel how each of the apostles reacts vividly to Jesus’ words. We can easily notice the individual psychological features in each of the represented forms.

Leonardo spent months searching for models for the Last Supper, refining every gesture and the smallest detail. Rumor has it that he devoted the most time searching for Judah and apparently found such a figure in the criminal districts.

Another curiosity is that Leonardo did not like to paint halo, that’s why on the fresco the halo was replaced by the daylight entering the room. Thanks to this solution, the viewer has the impression that light is spreading from Christ. So nothing on this fresco is accidental.

The artist also depicted all the details of the presented scene with a great accuracy. Experts believe that in the presented pewter vessels, Leonardo painted the reflections of the figures of the supper participants. Unfortunately, this reflection hardly survived to our times.

All the above-described elements, such as realism of the depicted characters, attention to the details, ability to present the psychological character of the figure, mastery in painting the perspective, perfect knowledge of geometry and the great ability to juggle the meaning, make the Last Supper a true masterpiece.

It is also one of the most frequently reproduced religious paintings.

Codes and Theories

This famous Leonardo’s fresco still evokes many emotions and pseudo-scientific theories. According to many, it contains innumerable mysteries and allusions, what assures us Dan Brown in his book “Leonardo da Vinci’s Code”.

In addition, according to Giovanni Maria Pale, who is both a musician and computer scientist specializing at the Last Supper, the musical record of the short requiem is hidden.

Another curiosity is the additional hand with a knife, which is hidden among the first Trinity from the left side of Jesus. On the image, you can see a hand holding a knife, just behind Judas. Initially, it was considered a mistake, if genius Leonardo could be so wrong. Currently, researchers believe that it is Peter’s hand. It is interpreted as a violent reaction of Peter to the words of Jesus regarding the events in the Garden of Olives.

There are numerous references to astrology and the placement of the Trinities of the apostles according to the seasons or constellations. One of the most intriguing is, of course, the theory that Mary Magdalene is depicted on the fresco too, that it is her and not John the apostle, and the knife held by Piotr is, in fact, meant for her. Even more, Peter’s second hand is aiming at Magdalene’s neck.

Last Supper Theory

Processing of the Last Supper

The Last Supper has had many modifications and depending on the modifying needs, the fresco was modified into a funny, shocking or carrying a deeper message.

The apostles could be changed into pop-culture characters or fictitious characters. Sometimes, even erotic items or other pop-culture items appear on the table.

An example of this is the work of Susan Dorothy White, an Australian artist who painted the First Supper in 1988. The da Vinci painting inspired the artist to raise the problem of human rights and especially women rights.

Many speaking version of Last Supper by Rauf Mamedov as a good example too. His interpretation speaks volumes about the loneliness of Jesus facing inevitable death. About loneliness as a general problem of each of human beings.

And maybe this is a true reason why Leonardo is genius – he intrigues and inspires despite the time.

About the Author:

I am a co-owner of BeArte Gallery, art marketspace based in Denmark. I have an art education and I paint myself. I am also a part-time paint teacher for artists amateurs.Communing with art and contact with the artists is what moves me in life. Without art, my life would be devoid of emotions, higher meanings. I believe that thanks to Art, each of us has a chance to touch an absolute.

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