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The Last Supper
Artist Leonardo da Vinci
Year 1495–1498
Type tempera on gesso, pitch and mastic
Dimensions 460 cm × 880 cm (181 in × 346 in)
Location Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan

The Last Supper (Italian: Il Cenacolo or L'Ultima Cena) is a 15th century mural painting in Milan created by Leonardo da Vinci for his patron Duke Ludovico Sforza and his duchess Beatrice d'Este. It represents the scene of The Last Supper from the final days of Jesus as narrated in the Gospel of John 13:21, when Jesus announces that one of his Twelve Apostles would betray him.

Contents

The painting

The Last Supper measures 450 × 870 centimeters (15 feet × 29 ft) and covers the back wall of the dining hall at Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. The theme was a traditional one for refectories. 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. This beginning date is not certain, as "the archives of the convent have been destroyed and our meagre documents date from 1497 when the painting was nearly finished."[1]

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. From left to right:

  • 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 Judas is wearing green and blue and is in shadow, looking rather withdrawn and taken aback by the sudden revelation of his plan.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.[2] He is the only person to have his elbow on the table. 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.
  • Jesus
  • Apostle Thomas, James the Greater and Philip are the next group of three. Thomas is clearly upset; James the Greater looks stunned, with his arms in the air. Meanwhile, Philip appears to be requesting some explanation.
  • Matthew, Jude Thaddeus and Simon the Zealot are the final group of three. Both Jude Thaddeus and Matthew are turned toward Simon, perhaps to find out if he has any answer to their initial questions.

In the 19th century, a manuscript (The Notebooks Leonardo Da Vinci pg. 232) was found with their names; before this only Judas, Peter, John and Jesus were positively identified.

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 have their backs 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: 17-46). The angles and lighting draw attention to Jesus, whose head is located at the vanishing point for all perspective lines.

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. There may have been other references that have since been lost as the painting deteriorated.

Medium

Leonardo da Vinci 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 layer of pitch, gesso and mastic, then paint onto the sealing layer with tempera. Because of the method used, the piece began to deteriorate a few years after Leonardo finished it.

Two early copies of The Last Supper are known to exist, presumably the work of Leonardo's assistant. The copies are almost the size of the original, and have survived with a wealth of original detail still intact.[3]

Damage and restorations

As early as 1517 the painting was starting to flake. By 1556—less 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. 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 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 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 centre 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.

A protective structure was built in front of the da Vinci wall fresco. This photo shows the bombing damage in 1943, suggesting the magnitude of the greater damage which was averted.

During World War II, on August 15, 1943, the refectory was struck by a bomb; 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.

Major restoration

The painting as it looked in the 1970s

The painting's appearance in the late 1970s was badly deteriorated and unrecognizable. From 1978 to 1999 Pinin Brambilla Barcilon guided a major restoration project which undertook to permanently stabilize the painting, and reverse the damage caused by dirt, pollution, and the misguided 18th and 19th century restoration attempts. 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 with watercolour in subdued colours intended to indicate they were not original work, whilst not being too distracting.

This restoration took 21 years and on May 28, 1999 the painting was put back on display, although intending visitors are required to book ahead and can only stay for 15 minutes. When it was unveiled, considerable controversy was aroused by the dramatic changes in colours, 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.

Rumours

A common rumour surrounding the painting is that the same model was used for both Jesus and Judas. The story often goes that the innocent-looking young man, a baker, posed at nineteen for Jesus. Some years later Leonardo discovered a hard-bitten criminal as the model for Judas, not realizing he was the same man. There is no evidence that Leonardo used the same model for both figures and the story usually overestimates the time it took Leonardo to finish the mural.[4]

Some writers identify the person to Jesus' right not with the Apostle John (as is supposed by iconographical tradition and confirmed by art historians) but with Mary Magdalene. This theory was the topic of the book The Templar Revelation, and plays a central role in Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code (2003). They propose that the person in the painting seated, from a viewer’s point-of-view, to the left of Jesus is Mary Magdalene rather than John the Apostle, as most art historians identify that person. By the same token the Apostle Philip (third figure to the right of Jesus, and the only other beardless male) could possibly be another woman (Martha?). Furthermore, they point out that the body angles between Jesus and the Apostle John form the letter M, a reference to the Magdalene, and that she and Jesus are dressed in similar but oppositely colored clothes, a negative image of each other. They also mention a number of other signs: a mystery knife pointed at one of the characters, that Leonardo da Vinci himself is in the painting with his face pointing away from Jesus, and that Jesus is confronted by an admonishing hand to his right making “the John gesture,” an index finger pointing up.

Castagno's version of The Last Supper, depicting St. John sleeping

The above points are often debated with the following counter-arguments:

  • Leonardo was requested to paint the Last Supper, which naturally included Jesus and his Twelve Apostles. As there are only thirteen figures in the painting, an apostle would have been missing to make way for Mary Magdalene. Somebody would have noted a missing male apostle earlier. Some have suggested that on the front of the figure of Simon Peter there is one hand with a dagger which is associated to nobody in the picture, but in clearer reproductions this is seen to be Peter's right hand, resting against his hip with the palm turned outward; the knife points towards Bartholomew (far left) who was to be executed by being flayed. It may also indicate Peter's impulsive nature, as he cuts off a soldier's ear in John 18:10. A detailed preliminary drawing of the arm exists.[5]
  • The figure in question is presumably wearing male clothing, as he is wearing the same kind of garments as, for instance, Jesus.
  • Some of the painting's cartoons (preliminary sketches) are preserved, and none show female faces.[citation needed]
  • Other paintings from that period (Castagno's 1447 and Ghirlandaio's 1480) also show John to be a very boyish or feminine looking figure with long fair hair.[6] This was because John was the youngest and most unquestioningly devoted of the apostles. Hence he is often shown asleep against Jesus's shoulder. It was common in the period to show neophytes as very young or even feminine figures, as a way of showing their inferior position.[citation needed]
  • Leonardo also portrayed a male saint with similar effeminate features in his painting St. John the Baptist.

Alternative theories

There have also been other popular speculations about the work. It has been suggested that there is no cup in the painting, yet Jesus' left hand is pointing to the Eucharist and his right to a glass of wine. (There are several glasses on the table, but they are difficult to see owing to the work's deterioration and restorations.) This is not the glorified chalice of legend as Leonardo insisted on realistic paintings. He often criticised Michelangelo for painting muscular, superhuman figures in the Sistine Chapel.

Further it is claimed that if one looks above the figure of Bartholomew, a Grail-like image appears on the wall. Whether Leonardo meant this to be a representation of the Holy Grail cannot be known, since as pointed out earlier there is a glass on the table within Christ's reach. The "Grail image" has become noticed probably because it only appears when viewing the painting in small scale reproductions. Zooming in on the painting reveals a cluster of geometrical shapes, possibly intended to represent marble wall decoration, or more likely, paneling on a door.[7] They only appear to form a golden chalice when parts are deliberately occluded.

Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper superimposed with its mirror image

Slavisa Pesci, "an information technologist and amateur scholar", superimposed Leonardo da Vinci's version of The Last Supper with its mirror image (with both images of Jesus lined up) and claimed[8][9] that the resultant picture has a Templar knight on the far left, a woman in orange holding a swaddled baby in her arms to the left of Christ, and the Holy Grail in the form of a chalice in front of Christ.

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 Da Vinci's writing, form a musical composition.[10][11]

Sabrina Sforza Galitzia, a Vatican researcher, claimed to have deciphered the "mathematical and astrological" puzzle in Da Vinci's The Last Supper. She said that Da Vinci foresaw the end of the world in a "universal flood" which would begin on March 21, 4006 and end on November 1 the same year. He believed that this would mark "a new start for humanity".[12]

The Last Supper in culture

The Last Supper made in salt in Wieliczka Salt Mine (Poland)

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 Dali painted The Sacrament of the Last Supper, with Jesus portrayed as blonde 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.

Modern art

In 1986 Andy Warhol was commissioned to produce a series of paintings based on the The Last Supper that were exhibited initially in Milan. This was his last series of paintings before his death.[13]

Pop culture

The Last Supper by Nicholas St John Rosse hangs above the altar in the Catholic Church of St Paul the Apostle, Tintagel, Cornwall
A scene from the South Park episode "Margaritaville", (bottom) resembles the Last Supper painting (top).

Da Vinci's painting has been parodied many times by contemporary artists. Some examples:

  • Susan Dorothea White painted The First Supper (1988) replacing Da Vinci's 13 similarly-featured men with women from around the world, with an aboriginal woman in the position of Christ.
  • In 1998, modern artist Vik Muniz displayed a recreation of The Last Supper, made entirely out of Bosco Chocolate Syrup.[14]
  • In March 2009 underground artists DanundDave recreated the painting with reality TV star Jade Goody as Jesus, and her husband Jack Tweed as Judas. It was entitled Jade's Last Supper.
  • In the film Viridiana The Last Supper is reenacted by a group of beggars.
  • The 1961 film Viridiana by Luis Buñuel contains a brief sight gag with a group of beggars seated at a banquet table in a parody of the da Vinci work.
  • The 1970 film MASH featured a scene in which Painless takes a meal with his fellow soldiers before his "suicide", parodying the poses struck by Jesus and the Apostles in Da Vinci's painting
  • Mel Brooks' 1981 film History of the World, Part 1 featured a homage to the The Last Supper, whereas the character, Comicus repeatedly interrupted Jesus while waiting on their table.
  • An episode of That 70's Show featured the characters assembling at their local eatery in a pose very much like The Last Supper.
  • Promotional material for the final season (4) of the show Battlestar Galactica featured a photograph of the main characters arrayed as in The Last Supper.[15]
  • A 1999 photo by Annie Leibovitz depicts the characters of the HBO series The Sopranos in the same pose.
  • The cover of George Carlin's 2004 book When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?.
  • In promotion for the final season (6) of the television show Lost, the main cast sat around an airplane wing as a makeshift table in The Last Supper positioning. [16]
  • In the South Park episode "Margaritaville", the painting is parodied, with characters from the show taking the place of Jesus and the apostles, all in similar poses.

Rapper Nas used the painting as an inspiration for the cover art of his 2004 album Street's Disciple. In the novel The Da Vinci Code, Leonardo da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper was a key element leading to the Holy Grail, presented as protected by a society called the Priory of Sion, of which Leonardo was a member.

Notes

  1. ^ Kenneth Clark.Leonardo da Vinci, Penguin Books 1939, 1993, p144.
  2. ^ Cfr. Matthew 26:15; John 12:6 and 13:29.
  3. ^ "Last Supper (copy after Leonardo)". http://www.universalleonardo.org/work.php?id=572. Retrieved 2008-08-11. 
  4. ^ Versions of the story can be found at the following locations Daily Blessings, The Easter Egg Archive, The Last Supper, Truth or Fiction
  5. ^ P.B. Barcilon and P.C. Marinin, Leonardo: The Last Supper, University of Chicago Press, 1999, p19.
  6. ^ Anwender (2006-04-14). "St. John at the Last Supper". Home.arcor.de. http://home.arcor.de/berzelmayr/st-john.html. Retrieved 2009-02-08. 
  7. ^ Extremely detailed views of these are to be found in P.B. Barcilon and P.C. Marinin, Leonardo: The Last Supper, University of Chicago Press, 1999. pp.179, 308-11. Barcilon states that "The door's decorative molding, which probably simulated different wood grains, is embellished at the center by a clypeus motif in light tones." p.345
  8. ^ "New Da Vinci code wreaks Web havoc". Edition.cnn.com. 2007-07-27. http://edition.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/europe/07/27/davinci.codes.reut/. Retrieved 2009-02-08. 
  9. ^ From correspondents in Rome (2007-07-27). "Da Vinci code 'cracked' by computer analyst". News.com.au. http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,22138621-5002700,00.html. Retrieved 2009-02-08. 
  10. ^ "Leonardo's 'Last Supper' Hides True Da Vinci Code". Dsc.discovery.com. http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2007/11/09/last-supper-da-vinci.html?dcitc=w19-502-ak-0000. Retrieved 2009-02-08. 
  11. ^ "Da Vinci's "Last Supper" has hidden music (includes link to recording)". Extra.beloblog.com. http://extra.beloblog.com/archives/2007/11/da_vincis_last_supper_has_hidd_1.html. Retrieved 2009-02-08. 
  12. ^ Richard Owen (March 15, 2010). "Da Vinci 'predicted world would end in 4006' says Vatican researcher". The Times. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article7061704.ece. Retrieved 2010-03-17. 
  13. ^ Haden-Guest, Anthony. "Warhol's Last Supper". artnet Magazine. http://www.artnet.com/magazine_pre2000/features/haden-guest/haden-guest8-3-99.asp. Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  14. ^ Goldberg, Vicki (1998-09-25). "''It's a Leonardo? It's a Corot? Well, No, It's Chocolate Syrup'', New York Times, 1998". New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9406EED61639F936A1575AC0A96E958260#. Retrieved 2009-02-08. 
  15. ^ http://www.flickr.com/photos/34527294@N00/2177726792/sizes/l/
  16. ^ "''What have you found in the 'Lost' 'Last Supper' photo?'', USA Today, 2010". USA Today. 2010-01-05. http://content.usatoday.com/communities/popcandy/post/2010/01/what-have-you-found-in-the-lost-last-supper-photo/1#. Retrieved 2010-01-05. 

External References

Steinberg, Leo. Leonardo's Incessant 'Last Supper'". New York: Zone Books, 2001.

External links


The Last Supper
File:The Last Supper pre
Artist Leonardo da Vinci (15 April 1452 – 2 May 1519)
Year 1495–1498
Type tempera on gesso, pitch and mastic
Dimensions 460 cm × 880 cm (181 in × 346 in)
Location Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan

The Last Supper (Italian: Il Cenacolo or L'Ultima Cena) is a 15th century mural painting in Milan created by Leonardo da Vinci for his patron Duke Ludovico Sforza and his duchess Beatrice d'Este. It represents the scene of The Last Supper from the final days of Jesus as narrated in the Gospel of John 13:21, when Jesus announces that one of his Twelve Apostles would betray him.

Contents

The painting

The Last Supper measures 460 × 880 centimeters (15 feet × 29 ft) and covers the back wall of the dining hall at Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. The theme was a traditional one for refectories, but Leonardo's interpretation gave it much greater realism and depth. 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—however, he did not work on the piece continuously throughout this period. This beginning date is not certain, as "the archives of the convent have been destroyed and our meagre documents date from 1497 when the painting was nearly finished."[1]

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. From left to right:

  • 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.[citation needed] He is the only person to have his elbow on the table. 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.
  • (Jesus)
  • Thomas, James the Greater and Philip are the next group of three. Thomas is clearly upset; James the Greater looks stunned, with his arms in the air. Meanwhile, Philip appears to be requesting some explanation.
  • Matthew, Jude Thaddeus and Simon the Zealot are the final group of three. Both Jude Thaddeus and Matthew are turned toward Simon, perhaps to find out if he has any answer to their initial questions.

These names are all agreed upon by art historians. In the 19th century, a manuscript (The Notebooks Leonardo Da Vinci pg. 232) was found with their names; before this only Judas, Peter, John and Jesus were positively identified.

In common with other depictions of The Last Supper from this period, Leonardo adopts the convention of seating the diners on one side of the table, so that none of them have their backs to the viewer. However, most previous depictions had typically excluded Judas by placing him alone on the opposite side of the table from the other eleven disciples and Jesus. Another technique commonly used was placing halos around all the disciples except Judas. Leonardo creates a more dramatic and realistic effect by having Judas lean back into shadow. He also creates a realistic and psychologically engaging means to explain why Judas takes the bread at the same time as Jesus, just after Jesus has predicted that this is what his betrayer will do. Jesus is shown saying this 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, as, unseen by him, Jesus too stretches out with his right hand towards it. (Matthew 26: 17-46). The angles and lighting draw attention to Jesus, whose head is located at the vanishing point for all perspective lines.

The painting contains several references to the number 3, which may be an allusion to 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. There may have been other references that have since been lost to the painting's deterioration.

Medium

Leonardo 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 layer of pitch, gesso and mastic, then paint onto the sealing layer with tempera. Because of the method used, the piece has not withstood time very well – within a few years of completion it had already begun showing signs of deterioration.

Two early copies of The Last Supper are known to exist, presumably the work of Leonardo's assistant. The copies are almost the size of the original, and have survived with a wealth of original detail still intact.[2]

Damage and restorations

As early as 1517 the painting was starting to flake. By 1556—less 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. 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 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 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 centre section before realising 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 a bomb; 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.

Major restoration

The painting's appearance in the late 1970s was badly deteriorated and unrecognizable. From 1978 to 1999 Pinin Brambilla Barcilon guided a major restoration project which undertook to permanently stabilize the painting, and reverse the damage caused by dirt, pollution, and the misguided 18th and 19th century restoration attempts. 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 with watercolour in subdued colours intended to indicate they were not original work, whilst not being too distracting.

This restoration took 21 years and on May 28, 1999 the painting was put back on display, although intending visitors are required to book ahead and can only stay for 15 minutes. When it was unveiled, considerable controversy was aroused by the dramatic changes in colours, 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.

Rumours and alternative theories

A common rumour surrounding the painting is that the same model was used for both Jesus and Judas. The story often goes that the innocent-looking young man, a baker, posed at nineteen for Jesus. Some years later Leonardo discovered a hard-bitten criminal as the model for Judas, not realizing he was the same man. There is no evidence that Leonardo used the same model for both figures and the story usually overestimates the time it took Leonardo to finish the mural.[3]

Some writers identify the person to Jesus' right not with the Apostle John (as is supposed by iconographical tradition and confirmed by art historians) but with Mary Magdalene. This theory was the topic of the book The Templar Revelation, and plays a central role in Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code (2003). They propose that the person in the painting seated, from a viewer’s point-of-view, to the left of Jesus is Mary Magdalene rather than John the Apostle, as most art historians identify that person. Furthermore, they point out that their body angles form the letter M, a reference to the Magdalene, and that she and Jesus are dressed in similar but oppositely colored clothes, a negative image of each other. They also mention a number of other signs: a mystery knife pointed at one of the characters, that Leonardo da Vinci himself is in the painting with his face pointing away from Jesus, and that Jesus is confronted by an admonishing hand to his right making “the John gesture,” an index finger pointing up.


Critics of these theories will point out that

  • Leonardo was requested to paint the Last Supper, which naturally included Jesus and his Twelve Apostles. As there are only thirteen figures in the painting, an apostle would have been missing to make way for Mary Magdalene. Somebody would have noted a missing male apostle earlier. Some have suggested that on the front of the figure of Simon Peter there is one hand with a dagger which is associated to nobody in the picture, but in clearer reproductions this is seen to be Peter's right hand, resting against his hip with the palm turned outward; the knife points towards Bartholomew (far left) who was to be executed by being flayed. It may also indicate Peter's impulsive nature, as he cuts off a soldier's ear in John 18:10. A detailed preliminary drawing of the arm exists.[4]
  • The figure in question is wearing male clothing.[citation needed]
  • Some of the painting's cartoons (preliminary sketches) are preserved, and none show female faces.[citation needed]
  • Other paintings from that period (Castagno's 1447 and Ghirlandaio's 1480) also show John to be a very boyish or feminine looking figure with long fair hair.[5] This was because John was supposed to have been the youngest and most unquestioningly devoted of the apostles. Hence he is often shown asleep against Jesus's shoulder. It was common in the period to show neophytes as very young or even feminine figures, as a way of showing their inferior position.[citation needed]
  • Leonardo also portrayed a male saint with similar effeminate features in his painting St. John the Baptist.

There have also been other popular speculations about the work. It has been suggested that there is no cup in the painting, yet Jesus' left hand is pointing to the Eucharist and his right to a glass of wine. (There are several glasses on the table, but they are difficult to see owing to the work's deterioration and restorations.) This is not the glorified chalice of legend as Leonardo insisted on realistic paintings. He often criticised Michelangelo for painting muscular, superhuman figures in the Sistine Chapel. Further It is claimed that if one looks above the figure of Bartholemew, a Grail-like image appears on the wall. Whether Leonardo meant this to be a representation of the Holy Grail cannot be known, since as pointed out earlier there is a glass on the table within Christ's reach. The "Grail image" has become noticed probably because it only appears when viewing the painting in small scale reproductions. Zooming in on the painting reveals a cluster of geometrical shapes, possibly intended to represent marble wall decoration, or more likely, paneling on a door.[6] They only appear to form a golden chalice when parts are deliberately occluded.


Slavisa Pesci, "an information technologist and amateur scholar", superimposed Leonardo da Vinci's version of The Last Supper with its mirror image (with both images of Jesus lined up) and claimed[7][8] that the resultant picture has a Templar knight on the far left, a woman in orange holding a swaddled baby in her arms to the left of Christ, and the Holy Grail in the form of a chalice in front of Christ

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 Da Vinci's writing, form a musical composition.[9][10]

The Last Supper in culture

Painting, mosaic and photography

A fine 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, the renowned artist Salvador Dali painted The Sacrament of the Last Supper, with Jesus portrayed as blonde 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 has been generally considered a masterpiece, and is reputed to be one of the most popular paintings in the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Modern art

(Poland)]]

In 1988, modern artist Vik Muniz famously displayed a recreation of The Last Supper, made entirely out of Bosco Chocolate Syrup.[11]

Notes

  1. ^ Kenneth Clark.Leonardo da Vinci, Penguin Books 1939, 1993, p144.
  2. ^ "Last Supper (copy after Leonardo)". http://www.universalleonardo.org/work.php?id=572. Retrieved on 2008-08-11. 
  3. ^ Versions of the story can be found at the following locationsDaily Blessings, The Easter Egg Archive, The Last Supper, Truth or Fiction
  4. ^ P.B. Barcilon and P.C. Marinin, Leonardo: The Last Supper, University of Chicago Press, 1999, p19.
  5. ^ Anwender (2006-04-14). "St. John at the Last Supper". Home.arcor.de. http://home.arcor.de/berzelmayr/st-john.html. Retrieved on 2009-02-08. 
  6. ^ Extremely detailed views of these are to be found in P.B. Barcilon and P.C. Marinin, Leonardo: The Last Supper, University of Chicago Press, 1999. pp.179, 308-11. Barcilon states that "The door's decorative molding, which probably simulated different wood grains, is embellished at the center by a clypeus motif in light tones." p.345
  7. ^ "New Da Vinci code wreaks Web havoc". Edition.cnn.com. 2007-07-27. http://edition.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/europe/07/27/davinci.codes.reut/. Retrieved on 2009-02-08. 
  8. ^ From correspondents in Rome (2007-07-27). "Da Vinci code 'cracked' by computer analyst". News.com.au. http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,22138621-5002700,00.html. Retrieved on 2009-02-08. 
  9. ^ "Leonardo's 'Last Supper' Hides True Da Vinci Code". Dsc.discovery.com. http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2007/11/09/last-supper-da-vinci.html?dcitc=w19-502-ak-0000. Retrieved on 2009-02-08. 
  10. ^ "Da Vinci's "Last Supper" has hidden music (includes link to recording)". Extra.beloblog.com. http://extra.beloblog.com/archives/2007/11/da_vincis_last_supper_has_hidd_1.html. Retrieved on 2009-02-08. 
  11. ^ Goldberg, Vicki (1998-09-25). "''It's a Leonardo? It's a Corot? Well, No, It's Chocolate Syrup'', New York Times, 1998". New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9406EED61639F936A1575AC0A96E958260#. Retrieved on 2009-02-08. 

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