The Last Supper

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The Last Supper – Research Essay
The Last Supper is a religious scene in the Catholic bible, which tells the story of the last meal the night before the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. An important role in its religion, the Last Supper scene has been recreated by artists many times. These visual interpretations of the event generally show Jesus, surrounded by his disciples. During the meal, Jesus breaks the bread and serves the wine accompanied with the command “Take this all of you and eat it… this is my body… do this in remembrance of me”. Three artists who have produced paintings of the Last Supper include Leonardo DaVinci, Jacopo Tintoretto and Salvador Dali. Each of these artists interpreted the religious event and recreated it in terms of their own beliefs, time, perceptions and intended audience.

Of those mentioned artist, the oldest version of the Last Supper was by Leonardo DaVinci in 1495 – 1498. Throughout this time period, the Roman Catholic Church had influential power in Europe. The Pope, based in Rome, acted as an unofficial leader of Europe and often commissioned artists to create artworks in Roman churches. These artworks were used to extend the public’s understanding of biblical stories as the population were for the most part illiterate at this time. Therefore in order to visually convey the religious themes, artists used many symbols to reveal full narratives through the artworks. This made Rome the centre of not only the religious world, but the art world as well.

Leonardo DaVinci was hired to paint a mural of the Last Supper in a monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. Its function was to visually represent the biblical story, which would be visible to the monks whilst they ate, to remind them of Jesus’ sacrifice and of the significance of the bread and the wine as it represented Jesus’ body.

This time also saw the stage of High Renaissance art. Renaissance meaning rebirth, was the revival of classicism. High Renaissance saw artists exploring humanism, the human body and correct anatomy, realism, complete harmony and balance, new techniques and ideal beauty. Aspects of High Renaissance are evident in the ordered composition of Leonardo’s version of ‘The Last Supper’. Leonardo applies realism by using correct perspective. The painting appears to be perfectly symmetrical, with a one point perspective – that is all lines running toward a focal point, the focal point being Jesus. As the focal point, Jesus sits in the centre with six disciples either side of him. The disciples on each side are grouped perfectly in threes, forming balance and symmetry again on each side. It is significant that the groups are formed in three, as the number three is symbolic of the religious link to the Holy Trinity – the Father (God), the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit. Throughout the painting the pattern of three is repeated, such as the windows in the background. This ordered composition of symmetry and balance is typical of High Renaissance style.

In painting Jesus, who is normally portrayed as a metaphysical presence, Leonardo used humanism to show Jesus as a human being. He paints Jesus, dressed in clothes of the day, and with weight and gravity, as any human would have. Although he is shown as human, there are indications which distinguish Jesus from the other figures. Leonardo uses chiaroscuro, the technique of creating light against darkness, on the window in the background surrounding Jesus’ head to act a halo, rather than painting a deliberate halo as conventionally done in the pre-renaissance byzantine era.

Leonardo applied the technique sfumato, creating gradual, smooth, change of tones and colour, to the faces of Jesus and the disciples. Sfumato helps the figures to appear natural, and therefore create realism, as another element of High Renaissance. The facial expressions and gestures of all figures provide insight and depth to the biblical story. The shocked facial expressions and body...
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