Wednesday, Aug 15th

Last update02:43:24 PM GMT

The Last Supper

THE LAST SUPPER itself was a remarkable and supreme work of one of the three greatest artists of the High Renaissance period in Europe (which occurred between 1495 and the deaths of Leonardo da Vinci in 1519 and Raphael in 1520) – Leonardo da Vinci. It was a work made by oil and tempera (a technique of painting using egg yolks as pigment) on plaster (13’ 99” X 29’ 10”).

For the refectory of the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Leonardo painted Last Supper. Cleaned and restored in 1999, the mural is still in a poor state, in part because of the painter’s unfortunate experiments with his materials:

“The restoration of Leonardo’s Last Supper, which took more than two decades, presented conservators with a great challenge. Leonardo has mixed oil and tempera, applying much of it a secco (to dried, rather than wet, plaster) in order to create a mural that more closely approximated oil painting on canvas or wood instead of fresco. But because the wall did not absorb the pigment as in the buon fresco technique (a mural-painting technique that involves applying permanent lime-proof pigments, diluted in water, on freshly laid lime plaster. Because the surface of the wall absorbs the pigments as the plaster dried, fresco is one of the most permanent painting techniques), the paint quickly began to flake.”

Nonetheless, the painting is both formally and emotionally Leonardo’s most impressive work. Christ and his 12 disciples sit at a long table placed parallel to the picture plane in a simple, spacious room. The austere setting amplifies the painting’s highly dramatic action. Christ, with outstretched hands, has just said, “One of you is about to betray me” (Matt. 26:21). A wave of intense excitement passes through the group as each disciple asks himself and, in some cases, his neighbor, “Is it I” (Matt, 26:22). Leonardo visualized a sophisticated conjunction of the dramatic “One of you is about to betray me” with the initiation of the ancient liturgical ceremony of the Eucharist, when Christ, blessing bread and wine, said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this for a commemoration of me… This is the chalice, the new testament in my blood, which shall be shed for you” (Luke 22:19 – 20).

In the center, Christ appears isolated from the disciples and in perfect repose, the calm of the stormy emotion swirling around him. The central window at the back, whose curved pediment arches above his head, frames his figure. The pediment is the only curve in the architectural framework, and it serves here, along with the diffused light, as a halo. Christ’s head is the focal point of all converging perspective lines in the composition. Thus, the still, psychological focus and cause of the action is also the perspectival focus, as well as the center of the two-dimensional surface. The two-dimensional, the three-dimensional, and the psycho-dimensional focuses are the same.

Leonardo presented the agitated disciples in four group of three, united among and within themselves by the figures’ gestures and postures. The artist sacrificed traditional iconography to pictorial and dramatic consistency by placing Judas on the same side of the table as Jesus and the other disciples, this contrasts with the Last Supper from Andreal Del Castagno – in which Judas sits isolated in the painting based on the Gospel of Saint John.  The light source in the painting corresponds to the windows in the Milanese refectory, Judas’s face is in shadow and he clutches a money bag in his right hand as he reaches his left forward to fulfill the Master’s declaration: “But yet behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table” (Luke 22:21). The two disciples at the table ends are quieter than the others, as if to bracket the energy of the composition, which is more intense closer to Christ, whose serenity both halts and intensifies it. The disciples register a broad range of emotional responses, including fear, doubt, protestation, rage, and love. Leonardo’s numerous preparatory studies – using live models – suggest that he thought of each figure as carrying a particular charge and type of emotion. Like a stage director, he read the Gospel story carefully, and scrupulously cast his actors as the New Testament described their roles. In this work, as in his other religious paintings, Leonardo revealed his extraordinary ability to apply his voluminous knowledge about the observable world to the pictorial representation of a religious scene, resulting in a psychologically complex and compelling painting.

Another Point of View: Dan Brown’s view of the Last Supper from his book – The Da Vinci Code.


If you have had a chance to skim through Da Vinci Code, you would have recognized that Dan Brow’s way of thinking is entirely different from formal comments about this spectacular painting. In brief, he indicated some tremendously questionable meanings from the details of the paint: that the disciple sitting next to Christ is consider as Maria Magdalena – the formal wife of Christ – which is absolutely a desperate ignominy toward the Church and Christians. And the position as well as the gestures of Christ and Magdalena intentionally formed a “V” – which is indicated as the symbol of women in ancient Egypt cultures, but was a heretic symbol to the Church at that time.

At the same time, the shamed Judas the apostle, with his hand strikes forward, looks like he is pointing at Christ and whispering something to Magdalena as well, is also remarked entirely different in Dan Brown’s book: Judas himself was completely not a betrayal – but was one who received a secret mission from Jesus Christ – a mission to be cursed by all others: to betray Christ himself and lead him to death at the crucifixion 3 days after. However, the novel later determines this action was actually a drama, which was arranged by Christ himself, the Governor of Rome and Judas was the only apostle who Christ allowed to know the truth. The reason of Christ’s action is indicated as he wanted to sent Mary and his child away, to Egypt then later to France, and that Jesus, together with the “betrayal” Judas were riding a camel together along their path to Egypt.

Of course those above made the Christians all around the world become extremely angry as they insult the history of the Church unforgivably.  And there were no exact evidence that can show us a whole picture about the day of the Last Supper – whether Judas was a true betrayal or a hero. However, in most modern textbooks used in colleges and universities today, Dan Brown’s remarks seem to be ridiculous.

Oxford University

Harvard University

Cambridge University

Stanford University

Princeton University