The Last Supper painting by Leonardo da Vinci is one of the greatest and most famous Renaissance oil paintings of all time.
Known in Italian as L’Ultima Cena, it’s a mural measuring over eight by four meters in size. Aside from the decorations in the Sala delle Asse in Milan, The Last Supper is Leonardo’s largest painting.
Painted between 1495 and 1598, it represents the biblical story of the final meal of Jesus. Told in several gospel accounts, this was the last supper Jesus shared with his apostles before his crucifixion.
The exact instant represented in Da Vinci’s Last Supper is the moment immediately after Jesus declares one of his twelve apostles will betray him.
Da Vinci portrays the reaction of each disciple to the shocking news. Some react with anger, others sadness or surprise, and yet others attempt to remonstrate or plead with Christ. Due to the complexity of the painting, it’s worthwhile examining each group in turn.
The group at the right hand-side of the artwork are Matthew, Jude Thaddeus and Simon the Canaanite. Matthew and Jude turn towards Simon, seeking his explanation for Jesus’s strange and frightening prediction.
Moving closer to Jesus, the next group of three are James the Greater, Philip and Thomas. Whilst Philip gestures for more explanation, James sits in stunned silence. Thomas’s finger points towards the sky, foreshadowing Jesus’s later resurrection.
Of course, in the center of the composition is Jesus Christ himself. His palms are open in heavenly supplication and his face a picture of resigned serenity.
Moving towards the left of the composition, the next group comprises Judas Iscariot, John and Peter. Judas (the disciple set to commit the ultimate betrayal) is nearest the viewer. His head is the lowest of everyone in the painting, and he clutches a small bag. This references the thirty pieces of silver rewarding his perfidy.
Judas is also cast in shadow and darkness, in stark contrast to the luminosity of the other figures. Contrasting with the other apostles, Peter appears angry (foreshadowing his violent actions in Gethsemane). He also touches the “beloved disciple” John on the shoulder, prompting John to ask Jesus about the identity of the disciple set to betray him.
Finally, the group at the far left are Bartholomew, Andrew and James (son of Alphaeus). All three react with extreme distress.
Even amongst Leonardo da Vinci famous paintings, The Last Supper is particularly renowned. Da Vinci’s complete proficiency in space and perspective as well as the presentation of motion and emotion has secured the work’s place in the canon in Western art.
Indeed, Jesus’s right cheek is at the exact vanishing point of multiple perspective lines. All the angles and lighting draw the viewer’s attention back to Jesus Christ time and time again. In turn however, Christ’s downward gaze directs the viewer’s sight along his left arm and towards the bread set to identify Judas.
The painting also marks the shift from the Early to the High Renaissance within Italian art. Leonardo’s artwork prioritized intensity of color and the juxtaposition of light and shade (known as chiaroscuro). This is particularly evident in The Last Supper, with dark recesses contrasting with the white walls of the foreground and the disciple’s vibrant jewel-toned robes.
The painting largely references traditional Last Supper depictions in its composition. All the disciples sit on one side of the table, so their faces are visible.
Unlike most religious art however, Da Vinci places Judas in the midst of his fellow disciples. Customarily, Judas would have been the only character sitting alone on the opposite side of the table. Da Vinci’s compositional change allowed the artist to show Judas reaching out for bread at the same time as Jesus.
As well as the astounding artistic skill on display, The Last Supper is also famous for the many controversies and conspiracy theories surrounding the work.
The Last Supper fresco is one of the most widely debated paintings in the world. Claims about hidden messages and hints within the painting abound, particularly in the aftermath of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (published 2003).
One of the most famous theories suggests the person immediately to the left of Jesus is Mary Magdalene. This theory further identifies a letter M in the center of the painting, standing for “Matrimonio” (marriage) or Mary Magdalene herself.
Art Historians generally agree this figure is the Apostle John, however. He appears feminine due to Leonardo’s characteristic style and use of soft sfumato. Other Da Vinci works such as Saint John the Baptist (for instance) have similarly feminine features.
The Last Supper also contains several references to the number three, as well as the Fibonacci series. This includes the disciples seated in groups of three and Jesus’s posture resembling a triangle.
In a similarly controversial manner, Da Vinci’s fresco doesn’t depict Jesus and his disciples with halos. This could be a heretical allusion to their status as mere mortals and common people, as opposed to divinely inspired figures.
Whilst unproven theories surrounding hidden messages continue to this day, what’s certain is Leonardo’s artwork continues to captivate and fascinate audiences in equal measure.
Commissioned by the Duke of Milan, the mural formed part of grand renovations to the Santa Maria delle Grazie church.
By the mid-1490s, Leonardo Da Vinci was already an acclaimed artist in high demand. His busy schedule meant work progressed slowly over several years.
Indeed, one story relates that a Prior complained to Leonardo about the prolonged delays completing the painting. This infuriated the renowned artist. Leonardo claimed he'd struggled to find a sufficiently villainous face for Judas, sarcastically adding he’d considered using the nagging Prior’s likeness.
Whilst the truth of this tale is uncertain, we do know Leonardo used materials such as pitch, mastic and tempera on gesso. This allowed for constant changes and revision over time.
Sadly however, these artistic materials meant the mural disintegrated quickly. Combined with environmental factors and intentional damage, very little of Leonardo’s original work remains. Even with many dedicated restoration attempts, this iconic Da Vinci painting is now in a state of disrepair.
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, or just Leonardo da Vinci, was a 15th and 16th century Italian artist, sculptor, inventor, architect, author and engineer. Leonardo da vinci genius of art and science is recognized universally as one of the most supremely talented individuals in history. The term Renaissance Man and Da Vinci are synonymous.
Leonard da Vinci two most famous paintings are The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa. They are both iconic works of art of the Renaissance Movement.
Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is also known as La Gioconda, and is in fact a portrait of Lisa Gherardini. The portrait was completed during the period 1503 to 1519 at a time when da Vinci was living in Florence. It is a fairly small painting, measuring just 30 in × 21”.
In 1911 the Mona Lisa made headlines all over the world when it was stolen from The Louvre Museum in Paris. It was some two years before the painting was finally recovered, having been stolen by an Italian petty thief who had worked at the Louvre for a short period. The thief claimed that he believed the painting rightfully belonged in Italy and in fact he only served a relatively short prison sentence.
In December 1913 Da Vinci’s La Gioconda was returned to the Louvre where the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile is viewed by an estimated 6 million people a year.
da Vinci’s The Last Supper is a mural painting which sits at the end wall of the Convent of Milan’s Santa Maria delle Grazie and tells the story of The Last Supper with the Twelve Apostles, when Jesus told them that he would be betrayed by one of them.
The Last Supper measures 180 x 350” and was completed around 1496. By 1978 the painting required substantial restoration and a 21 year project was unveiled to the general public in 1999. The restoration was not without controversy as there were substantial changes in tones and color. Senior art critics have expressed their displeasure at some of the changes to the facial features and to the arm of Christ.
In September 2017, Da Vinci’s painting of Jesus in renaissance clothing, entitled Salvator Mundi was sold for $450 million by Christies in New York. This set a record as the highest price ever paid for a work of art.
Since the sale, The Salvator Mundi has also been hitting the headlines as its authenticity is probed and questioned. The painting is believed to have been purchased by Saudi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and it has not been publicly unveiled since the sale.
Whether The Salvator Mundi is entirely Leonardo da Vinci’s own work, or whether it was painted in major part by Leonardo’s assistants, the fact remains that the face of Christ has all of the haunting and enigmatic hallmarks of the Mona Lisa and its fascinating history will continue to attract speculation for the foreseeable future.
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