The Last Supper (Leonardo da Vinci)
|The Last Supper|
|Il Cenacolo or L'Ultima Cena|
|Artist||Leonardo da Vinci|
|Dimensions||460 cm (180 in) × 880 cm (350 in)|
|Location||Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan|
The Last Supper (Italian: Il Cenacolo [il tʃeˈnaːkolo] or L'Ultima Cena [ˈlultima ˈtʃeːna]) is a late 15th-century mural painting by Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci housed by the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. It is one of the world's most recognizable paintings.
The work is presumed to have been started around 1495–96 and was commissioned as part of a plan of renovations to the church and its convent buildings by Leonardo's patron Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. The painting represents the scene of the Last Supper of Jesus with his apostles, as it is told in the Gospel of John, 13:21. Leonardo has depicted the consternation that occurred among the Twelve Apostles when Jesus announced that one of them would betray him.
Due to the methods used, a variety of environmental factors, and intentional damage, very little of the original painting remains today despite numerous restoration attempts, the last being completed in 1999.
The Last Supper measures 460 cm × 880 cm (180 in × 350 in) and covers an end wall of the dining hall at the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. The theme was a traditional one for refectories, although the room was not a refectory at the time that Leonardo painted it. The main church building had only recently been completed (in 1498), but was remodeled by Bramante, hired by Ludovico Sforza to build a Sforza family mausoleum.
The painting was commissioned by Sforza to be the centerpiece of the mausoleum. The lunettes above the main painting, formed by the triple arched ceiling of the refectory, are painted with Sforza coats-of-arms.
The opposite wall of the refectory is covered by the Crucifixion fresco by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano, to which Leonardo added figures of the Sforza family in tempera. (These figures have deteriorated in much the same way as has The Last Supper.)
Leonardo began work on The Last Supper in 1495 and completed it in 1498—he did not work on the painting continuously. The beginning date is not certain, as the archives of the convent for the period have been destroyed, and a document dated 1497 indicates that the painting was nearly completed at that date.
One story goes that a prior from the monastery complained to Leonardo about the delay, enraging him. He wrote to the head of the monastery, explaining he had been struggling to find the perfect villainous face for Judas, and that if he could not find a face corresponding with what he had in mind, he would use the features of the prior who complained.
The Last Supper specifically portrays the reaction given by each apostle when Jesus said one of them would betray him. All twelve apostles have different reactions to the news, with various degrees of anger and shock. The apostles are identified from a manuscript (The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci p. 232) with their names found in the 19th century. (Before this, only Judas, Peter, John and Jesus were positively identified.) From left to right, according to the apostles' heads:
- Bartholomew, James, son of Alphaeus, and Andrew form a group of three; all are surprised.
- Judas Iscariot, Peter, and John form another group of three.
Judas is wearing green and blue and is in shadow, looking rather withdrawn and taken aback by the sudden revelation of his plan. He is clutching a small bag, perhaps signifying the silver given to him as payment to betray Jesus, or perhaps a reference to his role within the 12 disciples as treasurer. He is also tipping over the salt cellar. This may be related to the near-Eastern expression to "betray the salt" meaning to betray one's Master. He is the only person to have his elbow on the table and his head is also horizontally the lowest of anyone in the painting.
Peter looks angry and is holding a knife pointed away from Christ, perhaps foreshadowing his violent reaction in Gethsemane during Jesus' arrest.
The youngest apostle, John, appears to swoon.
James the Greater looks stunned, with his arms in the air. Meanwhile, Philip appears to be requesting some explanation.
In common with other depictions of the Last Supper from this period, Leonardo seats the diners on one side of the table, so that none of them has his back to the viewer. Most previous depictions excluded Judas by placing him alone on the opposite side of the table from the other eleven disciples and Jesus, or placing halos around all the disciples except Judas.
Leonardo instead has Judas lean back into shadow. Jesus is predicting that his betrayer will take the bread at the same time he does to Saints Thomas and James to his left, who react in horror as Jesus points with his left hand to a piece of bread before them. Distracted by the conversation between John and Peter, Judas reaches for a different piece of bread not noticing Jesus too stretching out with his right hand towards it (Matthew 26: 23). The angles and lighting draw attention to Jesus, whose turned right cheek is located at the vanishing point for all perspective lines; his hands are located at the golden ratio of half the height of the composition.
The painting contains several references to the number 3, which represents the Christian belief in the Holy Trinity. The Apostles are seated in groupings of three; there are three windows behind Jesus; and the shape of Jesus' figure resembles a triangle. The painting can also be interpreted using the Fibonacci series: 1 table, 1 central figure, 2 side walls, 3 windows and figures grouped in threes, 5 groups of figures, 8 panels on the walls and 8 table legs, and 13 individual figures. There may have been other references that have since been lost as the painting deteriorated.
Two early copies of The Last Supper are known to exist, presumed to be work by Leonardo's assistants. The copies are almost the size of the original, and have survived with a wealth of original detail still intact. One, by Giampietrino, is in the collection of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and the other, by Cesare da Sesto, is installed at the Church of St. Ambrogio in Ponte Capriasca, Switzerland. A third copy (oil on canvas) is painted by Andrea Solari (c. 1520) and is on display in the Leonardo da Vinci Museum of the Tongerlo Abbey, Belgium.
For this work, Leonardo sought a greater detail and luminosity than could be achieved with traditional fresco. He painted The Last Supper on a dry wall rather than on wet plaster, so it is not a true fresco. Because a fresco cannot be modified as the artist works, Leonardo instead chose to seal the stone wall with a double layer of dried plaster. Then, borrowing from panel painting, he added an undercoat of white lead to enhance the brightness of the oil and tempera that was applied on top. This was a method that had been described previously, by Cennino Cennini in the 14th century. However, Cennini had recommended the use of secco for the final touches alone. These techniques were important for Leonardo's desire to work slowly on the painting, giving him sufficient time to develop the gradual shading or chiaroscuro that was essential in his style.
Damage and restorations
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Because the painting was on a thin exterior wall, the effects of humidity were felt more keenly, and the paint failed to properly adhere to the wall. Because of the method used, soon after the painting was completed on February 9, 1498 it began to deteriorate. As early as 1517, the painting was starting to flake, and in 1532 Gerolamo Cardano described it as "blurred and colorless compared with what I remember of it when I saw it as a boy". By 1556—fewer than sixty years after it was finished—Leonardo's biographer Giorgio Vasari described the painting as already "ruined" and so deteriorated that the figures were unrecognizable. By the second half of the sixteenth century Gian Paolo Lomazzo stated that "the painting is all ruined". In 1652, a doorway was cut through the (then unrecognisable) painting, and later bricked up; this can still be seen as the irregular arch shaped structure near the center base of the painting. It is believed, through early copies, that Jesus' feet were in a position symbolizing the forthcoming crucifixion. In 1768, a curtain was hung over the painting for the purpose of protection; it instead trapped moisture on the surface, and whenever the curtain was pulled back, it scratched the flaking paint.
A first restoration was attempted in 1726 by Michelangelo Bellotti, who filled in missing sections with oil paint then varnished the whole mural. This repair did not last well and another restoration was attempted in 1770 by an otherwise unknown artist named Giuseppe Mazza. Mazza stripped off Bellotti's work then largely repainted the painting; he had redone all but three faces when he was halted due to public outrage. In 1796, French revolutionary anti-clerical troops used the refectory as an armory; they threw stones at the painting and climbed ladders to scratch out the Apostles' eyes. The refectory was then later used as a prison; it is not known if any of the prisoners may have damaged the painting. In 1821, Stefano Barezzi, an expert in removing whole frescoes from their walls intact, was called in to remove the painting to a safer location; he badly damaged the center section before realizing that Leonardo's work was not a fresco. Barezzi then attempted to reattach damaged sections with glue. From 1901 to 1908, Luigi Cavenaghi first completed a careful study of the structure of the painting, then began cleaning it. In 1924, Oreste Silvestri did further cleaning, and stabilised some parts with stucco.
During World War II, on August 15, 1943, the refectory was struck by Allied bombing; protective sandbagging prevented the painting from being struck by bomb splinters, but it may have been damaged further by the vibration. From 1951 to 1954, another clean-and-stabilise restoration was undertaken by Mauro Pelliccioli.
The painting's appearance by the late 1970s had become badly deteriorated. From 1978 to 1999, Pinin Brambilla Barcilon guided a major restoration project which undertook to stabilize the painting, and reverse the damage caused by dirt and pollution. The 18th- and 19th-century restoration attempts were also reverted. Since it had proved impractical to move the painting to a more controlled environment, the refectory was instead converted to a sealed, climate-controlled environment, which meant bricking up the windows. Then, detailed study was undertaken to determine the painting's original form, using scientific tests (especially infrared reflectoscopy and microscopic core-samples), and original cartoons preserved in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle. Some areas were deemed unrestorable. These were re-painted using watercolor in subdued colors intended to indicate they were not original work, while not being too distracting.
This restoration took 21 years and, on 28 May 1999, the painting was returned to display. Intending visitors were required to book ahead and could only stay for 15 minutes. When it was unveiled, considerable controversy was aroused by the dramatic changes in colors, tones, and even some facial shapes. James Beck, professor of art history at Columbia University and founder of ArtWatch International, had been a particularly strong critic. Michael Daley, director of ArtWatch UK, has also complained about the restored version of the painting. He has been critical of Christ's right arm in the image which has been altered from a draped sleeve to what Daley calls "muff-like drapery".
The Last Supper in culture
The Last Supper has frequently been referenced, reproduced, or parodied in Western culture. Some of the more notable examples are:
Painting, mosaic, and photography
A 16th-century oil on canvas copy is conserved in the abbey of Tongerlo, Antwerp, Belgium. It reveals many details that are no longer visible on the original. The Roman mosaic artist Giacomo Raffaelli made another life-sized copy (1809–1814) in the Viennese Minoritenkirche.
In 1955, Salvador Dalí painted The Sacrament of the Last Supper, with Jesus portrayed as blond and clean shaven, pointing upward to a spectral torso while the apostles are gathered around the table heads bowed so that none may be identified. It is reputed to be one of the most popular paintings in the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Sculptor Marisol Escobar rendered The Last Supper as a life-sized, three-dimensional, sculptural assemblage using painted and drawn wood, plywood, brownstone, plaster, and aluminum. This work, Self-Portrait Looking at The Last Supper, (1982–84) is in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In 1988, Susan Dorothea White painted The First Supper showing 13 women from all regions of the world, with the woman in the position of Leonardo's Christ figure being an Australian aboriginal.
In 2001, Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi painted Last Supper, showing 13 mask-wearing people seated at a table strewn with watermelon fragments. The oil painting was sold for $23.3 million at Sotheby's auction on October 7, 2013, setting a new record for contemporary Asian artwork.
First we visited the fading inimitable fresco of Leonardo da Vinci. How vain are copies! not in one, nor in any print, did i ever see the slightest approach to the expression in our Savior's face, such as it is in the original. Majesty and love—these are the words that would describe it—joined to an absence of all guile that expresses the divine nature more visibly than I ever saw it in any other picture.— Mary Shelley, Travel Writing (1996), Pages 131–132
Film and television
In Luis Buñuel's Spanish film Viridiana, a tableau vivant of Leonardo's painting is staged with beggars. Another beggar 'photographs' the scene by flashing them. This scene contributed to its refusal by the Vatican who called it "blasphemous."
In Norman Jewison's 1973 film version of "Jesus Christ Superstar", in the Last Supper sequence, Jesus and the 12 apostles briefly mimic the posture of each character in Da Vinci's painting
The painting is parodied in Mel Brooks's movie History of the World, Part I, making Leonardo a contemporary of Jesus. It is also parodied in the original movie MASH, in the scene where Hawkeye Pierce stages a "last supper" for Walt (Painless) Waldowski before his planned suicide. The various doctors, all in surgical scrubs, pose in imitation of the painting.
Many parodies of the painting appear on the small screen, including The Simpsons' Season 16 episode "Thank God, It's Doomsday," with Homer as Jesus and Moe and his other patrons as the disciples; That '70s Show's first-season episode "Streaking," with Eric flanked by his friends (and Jackie wondering why everyone is sitting on the same side of the table); and South Park's Season 13 episode "Margaritaville," with Kyle and his friends eating at a pizza parlor. In one episode of the CBC drama Murdoch Mysteries called Barenaked Ladies, the suspects recreate the poses of Peter, Judas and Thomas in their victims.
The Last Supper has been the target of much speculation by writers and historical revisionists alike, usually centered on purported hidden messages or hints found within the painting, especially since the publication of the novel The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown in 2003. Dan Brown proposed that the person to Jesus' right (left of Jesus from the viewer's perspective) is actually Mary Magdalene disguised as the Apostle John, being mirror images of one another. It also states that there was a letter ‘glaring in the center of the painting’ (M) standing for Matrimonio or Mary Magdalene. This speculation originated in earlier books The Templar Revelation (1997) by Lynn Picknett and The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Henry Lincoln and Richard Leigh (1982). Art historians hold that the figure is the Apostle John, who only appears feminine due to Leonardo's characteristic fascination with blurring the lines between the sexes, a quality which is found in his other paintings, such as St. John the Baptist (painted c. 1513–1516). Christopher Hodapp and Alice Von Kannon comment "If he [John] looks effeminate and needs a haircut, so does James, the second figure on the left.".
Furthermore, according to Ross King, an expert on Italian art, Mary Magdalene's appearance at the last supper would not have been controversial and Leonardo would have had no motive to disguise her as one of the other disciples, since she was widely venerated in her role as the "Apostle to the Apostles" and was the patron of the Dominican Order, for whom The Last Supper was painted. There would have even been precedent for it, since the earlier Italian Renaissance painter Fra Angelico had included her in his painting of the Last Supper.
Giovanni Maria Pala, an Italian musician, has indicated that the positions of hands and loaves of bread can be interpreted as notes on a musical staff and, if read from right to left, as was characteristic of Leonardo's writing, form a musical composition.
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- Cfr. Matthew 26:15; John 12:6 and 13:29.
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- Christopher Hodapp, Alice Von Kannon, The Templar Code For Dummies, page 257 (Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2007. ISBN 978-0-470-12765-0).
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- "Da Vinci's "Last Supper" has hidden music (includes link to recording)". Extra.beloblog.com. Archived from the original on 2008-07-23. Retrieved 2009-02-08.
- mp3 file of the composition, hosted.ap.org
- Steinberg, Leo. Leonardo's Incessant 'Last Supper'". New York: Zone Books, 2001.
- Detailed review of Steinberg's 'Incessant Last Supper' at 3 Pipe Problem
- Bertelli, Carlo (November 1983). "Restoration Reveals The Last Supper". National Geographic. Vol. 164 no. 5. pp. 664–684. ISSN 0027-9358. OCLC 643483454.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci.|
|Leonardo's Last Supper, video, Smarthistory|
- Leonardo's Last Supper and the three layers
- John the Apostle in Art
- Leonardo da Vinci: anatomical drawings from the Royal Library, Windsor Castle, exhibition catalog fully online as PDF from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which contains material on The Last Supper (see index)
- Zoomable version
- Tourist Information