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Monday, April 28, 2014

Art and Jesus--The Last Suppers

The Last Supper, 1495-98, Leonardo da Vinci
The Last Supper (detail), Leonardo
In partaking of Communion (Eucharist, Mass, the Lord's Supper), our most common mental image is, of course, that of Jesus' last meal with his apostles in the upper room. And of all the hundreds of artists' depictions of this iconic event, standing out above all the rest is that of Leonardo da Vinci (above), despite the fact that it was neither the first, the last, or even necessarily the best. It is, as you can see however, certainly the one in the worst condition (left).

The Last Supper, 1442, Fra Angelico
Among the earliest surviving paintings of Christ's Last Supper is that of Fra Angelico dating from 1442 (above). You'll notice there are only eight apostles at the table. The good father, in rendering his fresco, apparently ran out of space at the table, so he depicted the other four kneeling in the lower right corner with Christ standing in their midst--likely NOT your typical communion image. It was, however, a seating problem that was to plague numerous later artists as well.

The Last supper, 1360, Taddeo Gaddi
The early Renaissance artist, Gaddi (above), had previously solved the seating problem as far back as 1360 by giving himself a very elongated space. Because of it's awkward shape, most later artists rejected this solution. Gaddi was the first to depict Judas on the near side of the table.

The Last Supper, 1447, Andrea del Castagno
The Florentine painter, Andrea del Castagno (above) followed Gaddi's lead in his very static, orderly, highly decorative depiction. You find yourself having to hunt for the figure of Christ. Leonardo's influence can be seen in Domenico Ghirlandaio's Ognissanti depiction (below), which comes perilously close to looking like a terrace garden party.

The Last Supper, 1480, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Church of Ognissanti, Florence
In Florence's convent of San Salvi, Andrea Del Sarto's Last Supper (below) dating from 1520-25, is quite sedate and one of the best Renaissance era depictions of the last supper. It appears to have been heavily influenced by Leonardo's version, but in many ways surpasses it. The painting so impressed an army invading Florence in the 16th century they chose to spare its entire church from destruction.

Last Supper, 1520-25, Andrea del Sarto, Florence
The Catholic church by no means had a monopoly on last suppers. The Russian artist, Simon Ushakov, casts his 1685 Last Supper (below) in an Eastern Orthodox light around what seems to be a square table.

The Last Supper, 1685, Simon Ushakov
Over later centuries, last suppers became a staple of Christian artists, starting with the rather frenzied scene by Tintoretto (below) in the 16th century painted in the Mannerist style.

The 16th Century--
The Last Supper, 16th Century, Tintoretto, San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice
The 17th century--
17th Century Last Supper
The 18th century--
An 18th century Last Supper
The 19th century--
A 19th century Last Supper
The 20th century--

And finally this 20th century image which seems to have been influenced somewhat by Hollywood's idea of Christ's final meal with his apostles.
A 20th Century Last Supper (20th Century Fox perhaps?)

The 21st century--

I found the Postmodern sculpture of beach sand seeking to convey the same mental and emotional meaning as Fra Angelico more than 500 years ago (replete with the perplexing crowded table).

A 21st century Postmodern Last Supper sculptured in beach sand.
My favorite last supper is from the mid-20th century, though having little to do with sand or motion pictures. It is Salvador Dali's Last Supper (below), painted in 1956, which to me carries with it a spiritual embodiment seen in few artists' work.
The Last Supper, 1956, Salvador Dali
The Last Supper has also been translated into ceramic clay (below) in a tableau display from the small Italian town of Sacro Monte di Varallo. It is loosely based upon Leonardo's version and dates from the mid-1500s. It is one of many such sculptural depictions of the life of Jesus at the same site.

Last Supper, Sacro Monte di Varallo, Italy
Also related--

Incidentally, often lumped in with last suppers, though quite apart from them scripturally, is Jesus' Supper at Emmaus, seen first by the Italian artist, Caravaggio (below), and a century later by the Dutch artist, Rembrandt van Rijn (bottom).

Supper at Emmaus, 1606, Caravaggio

Supper at Emmaus, 1648, Rembrandt


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