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The Last Supper

If you know me, then you know I love art from the Renaissance and Leonardo da Vinci (even though I think Michelangelo is the better artist, but that is besides the point). Most people know Da Vinci for the Mona Lisa, but I would argue that The Last Supper is the better piece.


The Last Supper. Leonardo da Vinci. 1494-1498 CE. Oil and tempera.

Subject Matter

Surrounded by the twelve apostles, Christ says “Truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” Da Vinci's painting is often viewed as all of the apostles reacting to Christ's statement about betrayal. Unsurprisingly, the apostles cannot fathom the idea of someone betraying Christ and react in complete astonishment and horror. Meanwhile, Christ reaches for the bread and wine with both hands, portraying the Sacrament of the Eucharist, where bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. While reaching for the wine, Christ also opens his hand to grasp a bowl. At the same time, Judas reaches for the same bowl. This action is how Christ identifies Judas as the one who has betrayed him. Judas was bribed by the Romans and clutches the silver he was given with his right hand.


Details

Da Vinci creates a sharp contrast between Christ and the twelve apostles. The apostles are stunned by Christ's statement and respond with exaggerated hand motions and body movements. On the contrary, Christ is calm and relaxed in the center of the image. Another detail to note is that the window behind Christ creates a subtle halo. In addition, Da Vinci utilized math and geometry. He used linear perspective to create a vanishing point and separated the apostles into four groups of three. For example, the three apostles on the far right are distinguished as a group because they are all doing similar hand motions. He also overlaps their bodies to add to the chaos of the picture. Da Vinci simplified the background and architecture to make the main focus on the figures. Also, the table serves as a barrier between our world and the world of Christ and the apostles.


Compare & Contrast

While Leonardo’s version of The Last Supper is certainly the most famous, it is definitely not the only one. Many other artists painted their own versions and we all know how the AP loves to compare & contrast works of art that have the same subject matter. Below is an image of Andrea del Castagno’s version as an example.


How is it different from Da Vinci's painting?

  • Leonardo simplified the architecture and background, in Castagno's version the background is elaborate with different types of marble and geometric designs; ultimately, Da Vinci eliminated all extra details to have the focus be on Christ and the apostles

  • Castagno uses halos

  • Da Vinci crowded the apostles together; Castagno left space between them

  • Leonardo placed all of the figures, including Christ, on one side to separate the divine world from the natural

How is it similar?

  • Obviously, both paintings depict the same subject matter

  • Both include Christ and the apostles



Sources: https://secure-media.collegeboard.org/digitalServices/pdf/ap/ap-art-history-course-and-exam-description.pdf

https://smarthistory.org/leonardo-last-supper/

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leonardo_da_Vinci_(1452-1519)_-_The_Last_Supper_(1495-1498).jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Castagno,_Andrea_del_-_Last_Supper_-_1447.jpg


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