As we all know the Last Supper is the last dinner that Jesus shared with his Apostles before he was betrayed and crucified. Although this theme occurs in many works, The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci is the most famous and has been a subject of many discussions. Leonardo da Vinci is one of the most remarkable painters, sculptors, architects and brilliant philosophers of all time. He was born on April 15, 1452 near Vinci but the biggest part of his life he spent in Florence where he began drawing and after a certain period-painting.
When Leonardo was fourteen he began working with Andrea del Verrocchio, who was one of the most recognized painters of his day. Da Vinci’s work soon became highly appreciated and that’s the reason why after a short period working for Verrocchio, Leonardo was employed by the Duke of Milan. From 1513, Leonardo started living in Rome where he was recognized along with one of the greatest artists of the time- Michelangelo and Rafael. Although his early work of genius was Madonna and Child, which led to his later work known worldwide as The Last Supper, Leonardo also designed court festival arenas for the Duke.
He also was very interested in his own research sketches which are, as we today know, in different fields of biology as well as science and engineering. These sketches include drawings on how the heart would pump the blood to the muscles. He also produced incredible drawings of how humans could fly. By studying birds, he invented the glider, parachute, a machine that would later allow humans to fly – the helicopter. However, this part of his genius wasn’t truly appreciated at his time because these inventions were too bold and unrealistic for his coevals.
The Last Supper is one of the most interesting and controversial works of Leonardo da Vinci. It is a mural painting, which means that it is directly painted on a wall, and is created by Leonardo in Milan from 1495 till 1498. Da Vinci painted it for his patron Duke Ludovico Sforza who decided that he wanted this religious scene painted. The Last Supper measures 15 feet ? 29 ft and covers the back wall of the dining hall at Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. Leonardo spent 3 years painting it because of its measurements but actually he did not work on it continuously throughout this period.
What is the technique that Leonardo da Vinci used to paint The Last Supper is really a controversial theme. Many call it a fresco, which means that the plaster is made wet, and then the painting is done on the wet plaster. However, if I want to be maximally right I should say that this work of art is not a fresco because Leonardo painted it on a dry wall rather than on wet plaster. He decided to do that because a fresco cannot be modified as the artist works and when the paint dry there is no coming back.
Instead Leonardo chose to seal the stone wall with a layer of pitch, gesso and mastic and then he painted directly onto the sealing layer with tempera. Unfortunately, this technique was the reason for the fast deterioration of Leonardo’s work. Only after a few years since it was completed it had already begun falling apart. For over the last twenty years, The Last Supper is tried to be stabilized and restored. Art experts tried to recreate what they thought the painting must have looked like.
However, that leads to controversial themes about the true identity of the painting and how being repainted and restored, it changed its symbols and meaning. The main debate is about the changes in colors and small details which actually make the work unique. There are two early copies of The Last Supper which are considered to be created by Leonardo’s assistant and are almost the size of the original. As far as the Leonardo’s The Last Supper, its composition is incredible because all the disciples look very human, expressing emotions.
This work of art was innovative for its time because it was the first representation of this religious scene where an artist painted the Apostles and even Jesus looking more like people rather than Gods. Leonardo’s painting actually represents the different reactions of the Apostles when Jesus told them that they would be the reason for his death and that someone among them is a betrayer. We can see from the expressions on their faces as well as their postures that they all feel various degrees of anger and surprise.
Bartholomew, James and Andrew, who are at the very left corner of the table, look shocked, while Matthew, Jude and Simon, which are at the opposite corner seem to discuss what had just happened. Actually, Matthew and Jude are turned toward Simon and it appears like they are trying to find out if he has any answer to their primary questions. Really interesting is the posture of Judas who is the only person with his right elbow on the table. He looks rather reserved and stunned by the sudden revelation of his plan.
Judas is wearing blue and green clothes and is clutching a small bag, which is recognized by many to be the silver given to him as payment to betray Jesus. The most important part of his representation is that he is in shadow, which somehow reveals that he is responsible for the future death of Christ. Next to Judas are Peter, who is visibly furious, and John who looks like is going to fade away. And here is again one of the many questions that this work raise- is it John on the painting or is it Mary Magdalene?
Some art analyzers claim that the person to Jesus is not the Apostle John but Mary Magdalene. In fact, this theory plays a central role in the Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code. However, the critics of these theories indicate that Leonardo had to paint the Last Supper, which included Jesus and his twelve Apostles. Since there are only thirteen figures on the painting, it means that one Apostle has to be missing or replaced by Mary Magdalene. As far as the others disciples, Apostle Thomas, James and Philip are placed right from Jesus.
The posture of James who is with his arms in the air reveals that he is bewildered. Thomas looks upset and Philip appears to be asking for some explanation of this sudden news. Very fascinating is the representation of Christ on this work of art. He looks like he is separated from the rest and is the only one who is sitting calm in the middle of this storm of questions and surprise. The Last Supper comes to life with da Vinci’s use of symmetry to make Jesus a focal point. In fact, the whole drama of the work comes from him outward to the Apostles.
Leonardo decided to seat the diners on the one side of the table so all of them could be seen. That was also accepted as an innovation at 15th century because the previous representations of the Last Supper had typically excluded Judas by placing him alone on the opposite side of the table or at one of the corners. Another feature which was used by most of Leonardo’s coevals was placing halos around all the Apostles except Judas. However, Leonardo creates a more striking and realistic effect by placing Judas into a shadow.
The different directions and sources of light in da Vinci’s work are another commonly discussed subject because it is clearly said in the book of John that the Last Supper was at night, while it is obvious that on Leonardo’s work it is a daytime. Da Vinci decided not to paint a nighttime scene because that would stop him from creating all the emotion that he represented with the help of shadows and lights on different figures and objects.
It looks like the main source of light for the painting is Jesus himself- colors around him are lighter and the red and the blue colors on is clothes are stronger than these on the disciples’ clothes. Another source of light is the windows and the third source seems to be below the table and to the left of the bottom corner of the painting. The main colors that Leonardo used for creating The Last Supper are different tunes and shadows of brown, grey, dark blue, beige and red, which create the feeling of darkness, sadness and melancholia. The figures of the disciples are grouped in a triangular Trinity formation around Christ. All lines focus on the soon-to-be-crucified Christ at the centre.
It seems that the lines guide the attention toward the main character. Leonardo Da Vinci, like all the artists of his time, paid particular attention to proportion. To paint The Last Supper, he made serious research on how the Apostles and Jesus should be placed on the table. In this work, he created a perfect harmonic balance between the position of the characters and the background. In this way Leonardo created one of the most fascinating and incredible works of all time. A work which is so controversial that raises more and more questions over the time and these are questions that usually have too many answers.