Leonardo has presented the biblical story in a way that had never been seen before. Earlier versions of the same subject had shown Christ calmly dispensing the Sacrament with the apostles sitting quietly in a row, only Judas was segregated from the rest. In contrast, Leonardo has given us a scene of drama, movement and excitement. Gathered from da Vinci’s extensive catalogue of preparatory drawings, each of the figures have individual expressions.
Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper. Milan (1492-98) (s)
The figures in the painting are; from left to right: Bartholomew, James the Less, Andrew, Judas, Peter, John, Christ, Thomas, James the Greater, Philip, Matthew, Thaddeus, Simon.
has just declared that one of the apostles will betray him, and the disciples
recoil and gesticulate in disbelief at this shocking revelation. At the left of
the painting, Bartholomew is stands stooped over the table, James the Less and
Andrew raise their hands while Peter rises angrily from his chair. Judas grasps
the pouch containing the money he has been paid for his betrayal, only John who
sits serenely expresses a modicum of calmness. The apostles at the right of the
table Thomas, James the Elder, Philip, Mathew, Thaddeus and Simon-all express
varying degrees of shock and anger at the announcement.
Grouping the apostles
in groups of three-seen as a divine number-da Vinci has created a harmonious
composition mirrored by the three windows in the back wall and the three doors
placed between the wall tapestries. The central, triangular figure of Christ
appears isolated within the group, he also serves as the vanishing point within
This picture has deteriorated over the years and is now in a poor state of preservation. Leonardo's experiments with different painting mediums on The Last Supper have backfired and, perhaps with hindsight, he should have used the tried and tested fresco techniques of the period.
The painting covers one wall in a hall in the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. At the time of its unveiling we can only imagine the impact it must have had on the monks, they certainly would not have seen anything so lifelike. To the monks, they must have felt that they were almost taking part in the Last Supper with Christ and his disciples.
Studies for the Apostles in the Last Supper.