Visual Analysis Essay of The Last Supper

  • Category: Art,
  • Words: 1280 Pages: 5
  • Published: 06 April 2021
  • Copied: 148

The Last Supper is one of the most recognizable and restored western paintings from the late 15th century, drawn by the Italian artist Leonardo Da Vinci. The neglect and abuse that the painting has gone through, the hidden symbols giving us an insight of the original bible, and information about Leonardo himself has made the painting priceless and significant in archaeology. 

The Last Supper is painted in and now held by the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria Delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. It was commissioned as the part of a plan to renovate the church by Leonardo’s patron, Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. The painting measures 460 cm x 880 cm, and covers the end wall of the dining room at the monastery of Santa Maria Delle Grazie. It is not certain when it had started and when it was finished, but it was estimated to be from 1495 to 1498, with only a document that shows the painting was close to finishing in 1497, and all other related archives destroyed through war and time. The wall that the Last Supper was painted on had moisture-retaining rubble as a filling, so the painting did not last long with the effects of humidity, and the new mural painting technique that Leonardo came up with was a failed experiment that only took a few decades to deteriorate. The painting was moved to France by Louis XII, then the room where it was stored had been made as an armory and stable; where the men threw stones at the painting and scratched out the disciple’s eyes. The same exact room was also used as a prison with unknown damage from the prisoners, it had also encountered flood over 2 feet, the vibration from distant bombs and gunshots in World War II, and construction was made under the painting for a doorway sometime after the painting was finished. This construction removed Christ’s feet and arched part of the table, the others causing the painting to flake or smudged. All of this resulted in the painting being badly damaged, leaving only a quarter of the painting being Leonardo’s work. With all other restorations that only further damaged the painting, and most of Leonardo’s original brushstrokes hidden and his original intentions possibly misinterpreted. 

Leonardo had a love for symmetry in his work, and only drew what he deemed to be the truth based on research and his own interpretation. In the painting, all thirteen men were placed behind the table without any others positioned elsewhere, following the sequence of 3,3,1,3,3 (number of men within each group). There are 4 archways on each side of the wall and 3 open windows in the back, with the largest as the backdrop for Christ. The view outside of the windows was painted using a technique called Aerial Perspective, and was used by renaissance painters to create the illusion of depth in landscape scenery. Christ being the most important of all, he was placed in the middle and had a triangular outline on his body, with no other disciples overlapping or leaning into him. When Leonardo first started painting, he drilled a hole in the wall, which will eventually be the right temple of Christ and the center of the painting, creating a vanishing point. The vanishing point is used in art to concentrate the viewer’s attention on said point, where all the lines in an artwork converge into one place, creating a three-dimensional look and guidance to the viewer’s attention. 

Unlike all other art pieces portraying the last supper, Leonardo made his painting’s meanings blend in and more hidden, requiring the viewer’s own depiction to understand his painting. Most other art pieces had placed halos on Christ and the rest of his disciples except for Judas Iscariot (The traitor) to show their status as saints. But Leonardo decided to not put halos on the disciples or use any other medium to differentiate the men or status, such as not displacing a green veil behind Christ (Green tapestry signifies noble status), or placing Judas on the different side of the table to show his betrayal and rejection. Instead, Leonardo drew them as equal, from a bystander’s point of view without any mythical or fantastical accompaniments, possibly his own analysis of Christ and his disciples being mortals. He used more hidden means to differentiate Judas from all the others; Judas is painted as a part of the group discussing the traitor, but Judas himself is leaning away from the table, with most of his face hidden in shades, and clutching a moneybag in his hands. Judas leaning away from the table represents his distance away from true forgiveness and sainthood, the moneybag as the fee he got from betraying Christ, and/or his role as treasurer among the disciples. The rest of the disciples was used to him carrying money, so they made no attention of him when Christ said there was a traitor among them, and carried on with the conversations. Judas himself had spilled salt by his elbow, which made the superstition of spilling salt being bad luck becoming widespread. He was also dark-skinned, and the rest of the disciples and Christ himself being light-skinned; it was a common way to differentiate saints and sinners, likely the wishes of the church and the common discrimination back then. 

Leonardo’s group placement was also intentional, as Judas, John, and Peter are placed in the same group at the table and nearest to Christ, and one of them slightly brushing against Christ’s right hand. All of these figures would then go on to play prominent roles later on, with Peter’s denial of his associations with Christ, Judas’s betrayals, and John’s loyalty to Christ, remaining with him even on the cross. 

There was saying that Christ’s hand placement was also intentional, with the hand on Judas’s side of the table facing down, and his other hands facing up. His open left hand symbolizing his acceptance with his loyal disciples, and his other hand towards Judas facing down meaning rejection. This would be backed up by the bible, as Christ is known for knowing the future, but only displaying small signs of awareness. 

To the right of Christ, is a feminine figure that is said to be John, but also said to be Mary Magdalene, who became better known and center of theories after Dan Brown’s novel “Da Vince Code”. She was portrayed in the novel as a wife of Jesus, with their descendants as the main lead of the novel. In reality, she is one of the Disciples of Christ, and appears in many artworks involved, but not limited to the crucifixion and revival of Christ, with bible verses confirming her existence but significantly fewer portions compared to her fellow followers of Christ. The feminine figure is most likely Leonardo’s own art style, him mixing both genders in one like the Mona Lisa. Maybe it was his own outlook on Jesus’s relationship with Mary Magdalene or his way of differentiating the disciples; John is the youngest out of all disciples, being logical that he has a feminine face compared to the rest of his fellow disciples. In the renaissance period, the position to the right beside a holy or high-class figure is seen as equal to said noble figure, so John being the most favorable and loyal disciple would most definitely end up in that position. Sparking even more theories about the possibility of the figure being Mary Magdalene, since the wife and disciple of a religious leader would be seen as equal as the said leader. However, a religious leader is less likely to build a family of his own, considering the would-be conflicts between his followers and children, and that Mary Magdalene was said to be absent from the Last Supper.

There are many other interesting and questionable facts about the details of the painting, but to control the already over limit word count of this essay, a few important symbolism and details were picked to be represented. Nonetheless, the Last Supper is an incredible piece of art with many hidden symbolism and broke the model for depicting religious work. Its survival and restoration through the ravages of time is mostly thanks to the contribution of luck and Leonardo Da Vinci’s style being unique and significant to historic findings. 

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