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The Last Supper
Leonardo da Vinci - Circa 1496 A.D.
Leonardo’s Last Supper (L'Ultima Cena), famous the world over, is inside the Refectory at the Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in Milan. It was commissioned from the artist by Ludovico Sforza, also known as “il Moro”. The sensitivity that can be seen in the painting is remarkable.
The event depicted is described in the Gospel according to St. John, the moment at which Christ, seated at the centre with his Apostles on both sides, reveals that He will soon be betrayed by one of them, which will lead to His crucifixion.
This intense moment creates a tumult of expressions. Some of the Apostles have risen to their feet, some approaching their Master. Gestures and facial expressions, horror and amazement, surprise and confusion, surround the main character.
This is set within an ingenious perspective that enhances Jesus’ central position. By means of the perspective construction, the artist created the illusion that the refectory continues beyond the end wall, so that spectators can imagine themselves as participants in this event.
Leonardo highlighted the importance of the subject by means of diagonals that lead towards Christ. Everything is connected to Him and revolves around Him.
This monumental work revealed its inherent problems as regards preservation right from the start, due to the fact that Leonardo painted on dry plaster. The artist used the technique generally employed for paintings on wooden panels, instead of using the fresco technique. This caused the painting to deteriorate rapidly and prematurely.
Over the centuries, there have been many attempts to restore the Last Supper. The most recent operation went on for 22 years (1978 to 1999). It succeeded in revealing the original colours and many details that had previously been obscured.
According to legend, Leonardo da Vinci painted his self-portrait in the figure of Judas Thaddeus.
Leonardo worked on the fresco from 1494 to 1497, while also creating other paintings in the same period.
During the Second World War, the wall bearing the fresco was saved from air-raid destruction – which destroyed the library - by the sandbags that had been positioned to protect it.
The blue and red colours used for Jesus' clothing are a classic combination in the iconography for Christ and the Madonna. They express Christ’s human (blue) and divine (red) identity, underlining the fact that on having completed His mission on earth, he will be transfigured.
The work has been analyzed in countless studies. Esoteric interpretations have been ventured, such as that in Dan Brown’s book “The da Vinci code,” which offered various readings of the painting.
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