“The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci depicts the scene of the Last Supper of Jesus with his apostles, as told in the Gospel of John. Da Vinci focused on representing the anxiety and confusion, as he imagined, would have occurred among the Twelve Disciples at the specific point in time, when Jesus announced that one of them would betray him.
This masterpiece covers one end wall of the dining hall at the monastery of Santa Maria Delle Grazie in Milan. The room was used for communal meals of the Convent 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.
Leonardo began work on The Last Supper in 1495 and took three years to portray the reaction given by each apostle when Jesus said one of them would betray him. All twelve apostles have different responses to the news, with various degrees of anger and shock. The apostles are identified by the Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci from left to right, as follows:
- Starting at the left, Bartholomew, James and Andrew form a group of three, all are surprised.
- Judas Iscariot, Peter, and John form another group of three. Judas is taken aback by the revelation of his plan, he is clutching a small bag, signifying his payment for betraying Jesus. Peter looks angry and is holding a knife pointed away from Christ. The youngest apostle, John, appears to be overcome.
- Jesus is in the centre, where the perspective and lighting draws attention to Jesus, whose right cheek is located at the vanishing point for all the perspective lines.
- Thomas, James the Greater, and Philip are the next group of three. Thomas has raised index finger foreshadows his incredulity of the Resurrection. James the Greater is upset with his arms raised. Philip appears to be seeking an explanation.
- Matthew, Jude Thaddeus, and Simon are the final group of three on the right. Jude Thaddeus and Matthew are turned toward Simon, to find out if he has any answers.
In common with other depictions of the Last Supper from this period, Leonardo has seated the diners on one side of the table, so that none of them has his back to the viewer. The painting contains several echoes 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 with three sides and three points.
Da Vinci was experimenting with new techniques, and due to the methods he used and to a variety of humidity and environmental factors plus war damage, very little of the original painting remains today despite numerous restoration attempts. Fortunately, two early copies of The Last Supper are known to exist, presumed to be work by Leonardo’s assistants. These copies provide us today with useful insights into the detail and luminosity that the original Da Vinci would have had.
A contemporary copy of The Last Supper, ca. 1520, by Giovanni Pietro Rizzoli who is thought to have worked closely with Leonardo when he was in Milan.
Da Vinci’s masterpiece is one of the world’s most recognisable images. It has inspired many copies; however, the original in the exact location where Da Vinci painted it, continues to be an awe-inspiring experience.
- Title: The Last Supper
- Italian: Il Cenacolo or L’Ultima Cena
- Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
- Created: 1490s (Julian)
- Periods: Renaissance
- Media: Resco-secco
- Dimensions: 460 cm (180 in) × 880 cm (350 in)
- Museum: Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan
- Name: Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci
- Born: 1452 – Vinci, Republic of Florence (present-day Italy)
- Died: 1519 (aged 67) – Amboise, Kingdom of France
- Movement: High Renaissance
“The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.” Leonardo da Vinci
Photo Credit 1) By Joyofmuseums (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons; 2) Giampietrino [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 3) Leonardo da Vinci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons