The Last Supper Essay
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The Last Supper
The Last Supper was a very powerful Biblical event, in which Jesus and his disciples
gathered for one final dinner together. According to the Bible, important events took place
during the Last Supper, including an announcement by Jesus that one of his disciples
would betray him and the first communion. To artists in the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries, it was necessary to give proper deference to such notable occurrences. Both
Leonardo da Vinci and Jacopo Robusti, known as Tintoretto, took upon the challenge of
recreating the Last Supper. While Last Supper by da Vinci and Last Supper by Tintoretto
are very similar in subject matter, they differ in composition, symbolism, and the choice of…show more content…
Da Vinci has
arranged the disciples into groups of three and tied all the groups together through their
hand motions giving this piece a symmetrically aesthetic feeling. Your eye is taken on a
journey through the oval-shaped composition of the piece, but it is clear that Jesus serves
as the vital magnet. The Last Supper by Tintoretto is a beautiful Mannerist-style painting
in which the painter creates a revolutionary type of composition. The piece’s surface plane
now shoots in a diagonal motion and Jesus is noticeable only because of the light around
his head. There is a feeling of unsure commotion throughout the figures as they lean into
uncomfortable positions, such as the maid in the foreground. The figures also seem to
blossom in light through a darkness of the background. The two brightest areas, Jesus and
the light fixture, fight for the viewer's attention and create a sense of uncertainty,
perfecting what the Mannerist’s set out to accomplish.
The use of symbolism in both Da Vinci’s and Tintoretto’s Last Supper is important
to the interpretation of each piece. Da Vinci is the first known artist to place Judas, the
disciple who betrays Jesus, on the same side of the table as Christ. This subtly symbolizes
the trust that Jesus shared with his followers, and it is more realistic. By placing Christ in
the center, as the focal
Leonardo da Vinci, Last Supper, 1495-1498, oil/tempera on plaster
Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper is a Renaissance masterpiece, though it is one which has struggled to survive intact over the centuries. It was commissioned by Duke Ludovico Sforza for the refectory of the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, and in order to paint it Leonardo used an oil/tempera mix and applied it to a dry wall. He did this because he wanted to capture the look of an oil painting, but even within his lifetime it began to wear off. Further destruction was caused in the seventeenth century, when a door was cut into the bottom (obviously Leonardo’s work was not esteemed at that time like it is today).
In painting the Last Supper, Leonardo created the effect that the room in which Christ and the apostles are seen was an extension of the refectory. This is quite appropriate, since the Last Supper takes up the basic theme (eating) of the purpose of the refectory. The extension of space that we see here is similar to what we saw with Masaccio’s Holy Trinity fresco, painted in the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Leonardo is thus using some of the same pictorial devices used by his painter-predecessors earlier in the century.
The scene shows us figures in a rectangular room with coffers on the ceiling and tapestries on either side of the room. The room terminates at three windows on end of wall and through the windows we can see into a beautiful landscape setting. We see how the landscape in the background terminates in a kind of misty, grayish horizon. This painterly device, in which the horizon’s colors become more dull and colorless, is called aerial perspective and was used by Renaissance artists to create the illusion of depth in landscape scenes.
As far as the composition is concerned, Christ is in center among the apostles, and his body forms a triangle-like shape which is not overlapped by any apostles. There are four sets of three apostles at the table beside Christ, and these numbers may have been important for Leonardo for symbolic reasons (for example, there are four Gospels in the Bible, and three is the number of the Trinity). We can easily see Leonardo’s use of one-point linear perspective, in which the vanishing point is at Christ’s head (the orthogonals can be seen by following the tops of the wall tapestries or the coffers to where they intersect at Christ), which his also framed by the pediment above and back-lit by the open window behind. Thus, Leonardo was keeping up with the innovative artistic techniques developed early in the Quattrocento.
In addition to Christ being the center of the composition, he is also the center of psychology here. The scene we are viewing comes from the Gospel accounts on the night before Christ’s Passion and Death when Christ and the apostles are together in a room for supper. More exactly, we are witnessing them at a point in the narrative after which Christ has made a great revelation to the apostles: one of them will betray Christ (“One of you is about to betray me”, Matthew 26:21 ). He is, of course, referring to Judas, but at this point there is commotion as all the apostles question who the betrayer really is. Although the Last Supper had been depicted in art many times before, this particular moment in the story is one which had not been depicted. This dramatic moment opens a door for Leonardo to explore the psychological reactions of the figures involved. We can see this in the various apostles, who are linked by their hand movements. Emotions range from protest (Philip, #8) to sadness (John, next to Christ) to acceptance (Christ). Judas, however, is shadowed, so that we only see part of his face while he clutches the money bag containing silver pieces. Judas was normally arranged across the table from the other apostles in Last Supper depictions, but here he is depicted in the same grouping as John and Peter. All of these figures would go on to play prominent roles in the Passion of Christ (Judas in the betrayal, Peter with his denials, and John who remains with Christ at the cross).
Leonardo’s Last Supper is a type of painting which builds on the early Renaissance painting traditions in areas such as composition and perspective. Yet, it is innovative in terms of its study of emotional reactions and psychological states, all captured in a type of naturalism which was unknown in Italian painting in the previous century. It is thus with Leonardo that we see the beginning of the climactic years of the Renaissance when virtuosity was at its peak, when original ways of depicting figures or scenes came full force, and when the course of European art began to change as we know it. This was the beginning of the High Renaissance.
The Last Supper Wall Frieze