Friday, March 10, 2006

Last Suppers - Leonardo, Dali, and the Last Bar-B-Que

I have been thinking a lot about da Vinci's painting, "The Last Supper." Yes, I did read the Da Vinci Code. I thought it was entertaining, but I also thought it contained a lot of what my son and I call, "Baloney Factor" -- stuff that may not be true, but you have to accept it to enjoy the story.

Whatever Dan Brown says in his fictional work, I've been studying the Last Supper as portrayed by Leonardo.

So, is Mary Magdalene really in the painting? I don't think so. Maybe the one traditionally identified as John does look like a woman, but the real painting is in pretty bad shape.

I don't think so.

Take a look at his sketch, "Angel in the Flesh." You see a woman's face, almost identical to the face of John or Mary at the Lord's Supper. Same feminine facial features. A hint of a woman's breast. Look futher south and it is obvious that angel is fully male.

Leonardo was painting John as the youngest apostle, and in doing that, he did what artists did in that period -- portrayed youthful males as having feminine features.

Mary Magdalene was at the Last Supper, but Leonardo only painted Christ and his 12 apostles.

The more I learn about this painting, the more I see.

All lines focus on the head of Christ as the center of the painting.

The Trinity is evident throughout -- three windows and the groupings of all apostles in groups of three are two that are most evident.

I've not seen the actual painting, but I'm told by those who have that the painting produces a sort of illusion. Painted on the wall of a refectory (or convent dining room), it was in fact intended to appear an extension of the room itself; the effect is achieved by the painting's perspective, which matches the lines of the actual room.

Christ is seated with a window behind him, thus the light of daylight gives a sort of halo -- the only one in the painting.

Christ forms a triangle with his body, like the Virgins of Adoration of the Magi or Virgin of the Rocks; his disciples form rippling waves.

He has just announced that one of them will betray him, but he has not yet indicated that it is Judas. Each disciple is eager to acquit himself or identify the future traitor.

Grouped into threes, the disciples on the far right recoil in surprise, while the next group leans toward Christ with curiosity; each group has a slightly different reaction to the news.

Generally, the hands of the disciples contradict the movement of their bodies, giving the whole composition a flowing circuit that always leads back to the center.

At the viewer's far left are Bartholomew, James the Lesser and Andrew, forming the first group of three. All are surprised. Andrew holds both of his hands up in a "stop!" gesture. There is a knife that is pointing away from Christ, and it is aimed at Bartholomew. In many Last Supper paintings of this and earlier eras, the knives pointed toward Judas. Here it points toward Bartholomew, perhaps a reminder of the legend that says he was martyred after being skinned alive.

Judas, Peter and John form another group of three. Judas is in shadow, looking rather withdrawn and taken back by the sudden revelation of his plan. He is clutching a small bag of silver, given to him as payment to betray Jesus. Peter looks angry; perhaps foreshadowing Peter's reaction in Gethsemane. Much has been said about the knife not appearing to belong to anyone at the table, but close examination reveals that it is an extension of Peter's body.

In the next triad, which is to Christ's right from the viewer's perspective, are Thomas, James Major and Philip. Thomas is clearly upset; James the Greater looks stunned, with his arms in the air. Meanwhile, Philip appears to be requesting some explanation.

Finally we come to the last triad: Matthew, Jude Thaddeus and Simon the Zealot. Both Jude Thaddeus and Matthew are turned toward Simon, perhaps to find out if he has any answer to their initial questions.

(These names are all agreed upon by art historians. In the 1800's a manuscript was found with their names; before this only Judas, Peter, John and Jesus were positively identified).

Dan Brown makes a major point of talking about how there was no single chalice, but several cups. In this chapel painting from the 1300's, there is no single cup, but several.

In this work, I believe Judas is at Christ's left side, as this individual seems to be dipping bread into a bowl. In Mark 14:20, Jesus has told the apostles that he will be betrayed. They want to know who it is, and Jesus says, "It is one of the Twelve, "one who dips bread into the bowl with me."

These apostles are also emotionless, and one of the things Leonardo did was to show, for the first time, an emotional Last Supper.

Duccio di Buoninsega painted the Supper between 1308 and 1311. It also shows many cups.

And again, the people gathered around the table all seem without emotion.

Christ is framed as the centerpiece of this work, although not as effectively as in Leonardo's work.

I do not believe this is Judas at Christ's left in this painting, but John. This figure looks to be the youngest, and John was usually painted that way. Without this figure dipping bread into a bowl, this individual reminds me of John's Gospel, where it is noted that the Beloved Disciple " had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, 'Lord, who is going to betray you?'" (John 21:20)

Giotto di Bondone painted his Last Supper between 1304 and 1306. Most obvious to me is the black halo that all apostles share, while Christ has one that is gold. Christ is far from the center at this painting. Again, John is leaning against Christ.

Judas has his back to the viewer, and with his hand he is reaching to dip bread into the bowl. Here Judas is wearing yellow, which was the ecclesiastical color ascribed to Judas -- yellow as in urine. Don't tell me those early church fathers didn't have a mean streak.

Again, there is not much emotion in the faces portrayed in this painting.

Pietro Lorenzetti produced his Last Supper around 1320 to 1330. Again, you see more of a realistic supper setting, with people sitting on both sides of the table.

Can you find Judas? He is on the viewer's left wearing blue with a reddish cloak. He is the only one without a halo.

And again, there's John, youthful looking and leaning on Jesus.

By this time, pets and animals are appearing at the Last Supper. You see a couple of them on the floor in the kitchen area at the viewer's left.

Around 1400, Jaume Serra painted a similar version of the Supper. The apostles, void of emotion, are gathered in a circular table. John is leaning on the table, next to Jesus. What I find interesting here is Judas. Again, he has no halo, but he is reaching out for food as if this is his only interest. Others are eating, but Judas is reaching for the lamb -- which is interesting because of his betrayal of Christ, the Lamb of God.

Around 1450, Jaume Huguet, produced what looks like to me a rather standard Last Supper for that time. You see lots of similar themes here that you see in the previous paintings, but I think he takes Judas a step further here. As with Jaume Serra's work, the apostles are in a circular setting, John is at Christ's left, all are without emotion, Judas has no halo and again is reaching for food.

In this case, he is the only one eating while the rest are attentive or reacting to Jesus. It is clearly a lamb that Judas is picking at.

There is also a cat at the Last Supper. It is at the feet of Judas. What's with that? Anyone know?

John is again leaning on Jesus in Domenico Ghirlandaio's work of the late 1400s. Judas sits alone and issolated, across the table. He has also lost his halo. And as with Leonardo's work, it is daylight outside.

I wonder what that means? The Last Supper was at night. But I found that to be common as I looked at other paintings of that period depicting the Last Supper.

By the way, Domenico Ghirlandaio painted lots of birds in the sky, a peacock on the ledge on the viewer's right, and once again we see a cat on the floor near Judas. What's that about? Any ideas?

We see windows in the work of Andrea del Sarto. He painted the Last Supper in the 1520s, well after Leonardo's work.

Like Leonardo, the windows show daylight behind Christ. Showing daylight, as well as having everyone on one side of the table, may be a reflection of how this painter was influenced by Leonardo.

Here is the Last Supper by Juan de Juanes, working after Leonardo's painting, sometime in the 1560s. He is clearly influenced by Leonardo, and he shows daylight behind Christ. You can also see that Judas is on the far right, sitting across the table with his back to the viewer. He wears yellow, as in one of the earlier paintings.

Leonardo has Judas holding a bag, and we see the same here. Judas has the bag in his right hand, held low as if to hide what is probably the blood money from the rest of the group (as well he should).

There is only one chalice, but there are a couple of knives and they help point the viewer's attention to Judas.

By this time, Leonardo's influence of showing the apostles with emotion is being embraced by the artists.

Philippe de Champaigne, painted the Last Supper in the 1600s. By this time, Leonardo's influence is quite visible. Unlike Leonardo, by this time we are seeing one cup and one bread -- what Dan Brown would have expected of all the paintings.
Judas is at the viewer's left, looking defiant and confident. He holds a bag, probably the blood money, but he holds it openly and arrogantly. Again, you see he has a yellow cloak.

John is at Christ's right. He again looks rather feminine.

Daniele Crespi painted the supper in 1624-25. Again, there is daylight in the window behind Christ. John is still leaning on Jesus.
Judas is again an interesting figure. He is looking at the viewer -- you almost want to say, "Hey Judas, don't look at the camera!" You may not be able to see it here, but his left hand is at his side, and just below the level of the bench he is holding the bag, so that clearly this is the figure of Judas.

OK, change of pace. Let's leave Europe and look at some other culture's view of the Last Supper.

The Last Bar-B-Que is one of the best known lithographs of Margo Humphrey. There is watermelon and chicken, along with the traditional bread and wine. Christ and the apostles are all African-American. This is not altogether a humorous look at the event. Humphrey said, "The Last Bar-B-Que is a serious piece: a rewriting of history through the eyes of my ancestry, a portrayal of a savior who looks like my people."

Judas is on the viewer's far right. He has his halo, but he is completely yellow.

In another contemporary rendition of the Last Supper, Judith Wolfe has done a wonderful job showing the theological meaning of the Eucharist. "This cup is the blood of Christ, shed for the remission of your sins." The cup is tilted, so that the blood, or wine, is indeed poured out for our salvation. In the background, the curtain is torn, a reference to the Temple curtain that was torn at Christ's crucifixion.

Finally, I end with Salvador Dali.

I love his work.


Blogger ~**Dawn**~ said...

this is a fantastic, timely blog entry. i never realized there were so many depictions of The Last Supper! thank you for sharing this.

in my childhood church the base of the alter is partially a 3-dimensional carving of The Last Supper. this makes me wish that i could go inspect it so much more closely than i ever did when i had the opportunity.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

Check out this link for some 'modern' interpretations of the last supper:

Some of these may seem in bad taste, but at least they make for good conversation and I think any conversation that is centered around Christ is good.

The David LaChapelle photo reminds me of the sermon I heard this last week. The sermon talked about how Christ came for the 'unGodly'.

Interesting stuff.

2:07 PM  
Blogger Reverend Ref + said...

Cats and Judas. I suppose there could be hundreds of reasons for having a cat next to Judas. I played around a little with this one, and the best explanation I could come up with is that the cat is independent (unwilling to bow to anyone else) and was also attributed to having magical and bewitching powers (being of the Devil). Here are a couple of links for you. The first one is some interesting information about cat lore.

This next one, however, is slightly . . . um . . . odd.

6:55 PM  
Anonymous Lorna said...

wow. thanks you :)
I'llbe back to re-read and re-look and re-think and it's all good.

be blessed

as for the many cups. I think that's accurate. Moreover the Jewish tradition was to dip the bread into a bowl not a cup wasn't it? I think it contained herbs or flour - not wine. Correct me if I'm wrong though. I'm no expert.

4:46 AM  
Blogger Questing Parson said...

This was certainly well thought out and insightful. Thanks!

11:50 PM  
Blogger HeyJules said...

What a fantastic thing you have done here! I feel like I just got a history lesson, an art lesson and a bit of theology all in one blog post!

My favorites are the original DaVinci and that wonderful Dali at the end. What talent!

2:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey- you haven't posted in a while- Just wanted to say that I hope that you are well-
And that you are missed..

9:27 PM  
Blogger Angelique said...

I love looking at all the paintings but I have always admired El Greco's work and his last supper. Maybe you could post some depictions of the la pieta next.

12:40 PM  
Blogger St. Casserole said...

John, this is great! Many thanks.

10:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved the trip through the Suppers. Thank you for all the work. For some odd reason, the other day I was standing in the nave of our church and for the first time paid attention to the framed print of the Last Supper (Ghirlandaio). I was struck by the cat! It seemed to me that no figure is actually looking directly out at the viewer, except the cat. Funny--It was the same week that our old cat died, but I wasn't looking for that. Anyway, I found you through googling, because I was curious about this painting, and wanted to write about it. I so appreciate the depth of YOUR search.

8:53 PM  
Blogger logisticmosquito said...

I have an old Bible with a picture of "The Last Supper" in it that was painted by Phillip Di Champaigne and it nothing like the one on this site. I have seached the net trying to find a copy of it and have been unsuccessful. The book I have is some forty years old and there are many beautiful pictures of art in it.

"The Last Supper" in this book shows a man identical to Jesus and standing to the left of Jesus.
While Jesus has his eyes downcast, the man to his left looks more upwardly. Jesus has bread in his left hand which he looks at, and the other hand is pointed heaven bound. The man to his left wears the same clothing, right down to the same color. He also has the exact same facial features including his hair and beard.

If anybody is able to give me information on this picture i would appreciate it.


4:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Ghirlandaio's Last Supper dipiction... a peacock and a cat are present. Christians adopted the symbol of the peacock to represent immortality or Eternal Life. This came from an ancient legend that the flesh of the peacock did not decay. It is also associated with the resurrection of Christ because it sheds it old feathers every year and grows, newer, brighter ones each year.
The cat on the other hand I am not quite sure about. I know that in ancient egyptian culture the were worshiped as their own God and so it would represent idols. Also cats typically are independent not really cable of relying on something? I don't know but they all seem to represent Judas to me which is why the cat is on the same side of the table next to Judas' feet. Just a thought.

10:08 AM  
Blogger KYLE WILLIAMS said...

i wanted to say that your understanding of judas in Margo Humphrey's work is incorrect. Judas is not the yellow figure, he is the figure with white and black striped shirt. Humphrey uses western traditions to depict Judas--spilling the salt and the money bag in his hand.

10:57 AM  

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