The Last Supper

1498

Milan, Italy

the last supper

An overwhelming sense of relief took over me as I laid my eyes on the artwork. No feeling could ever beat this one, right now. Pride and excitement overpowered the emptiness at the pit of my stomach, and heightened the colors until they became fluorescent rays, blinding me from reality, from the state of the mural. The dry plaster exhausted the paint, and it started to flake off the wall. Pieces were chipped and eventually hit the cold ground. Vibrant colors faded into pale hues. Even then, I was content.

On the end wall of the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie, was where it stood, in the dining hall, adjacent to the church. The poor state of the piece then dawned on me. Fragments peeled and crumbled, until they were too weak to hold up. It was a habit, I thought, one I could not control. One day I’d lock myself in my room and refrain from facing what’s to come, and another my wrists would ache from working so hard. I’d spend the entire day perfecting every brush stroke without breaks, and with that came the adrenaline that only lasted from time to time. Sometimes I’d make irrational decisions, I’d take risks that I couldn’t take back if I tried. My restless thoughts would overtake my consciousness and deem any possibility limitless. The possibilities were so abstract in my mind that ignoring them was impossible. My method was the result of a false trial. In the beginning, the traditional wet plaster wasn’t appealing to me. It lacked the potential of allowing a wider palette, which was what I was aiming for. Also, the traditional fresco method wasn’t forgiving on time, as a painter had to rush to finish the piece before the plaster dried. Using tempera paints on stone, I primed the wall with a material that I hoped would accept the tempera and protect the paint against moisture. Eventually, my new technique proved to be useless, judging by its state.

I was commissioned by Duke Ludovico Sforza and his duchess Beatrice d’Este back at 1495 to work on a mural. Their request was to paint a religious depiction of Christ and his disciples on their last supper. My goal was capture all of the 12 disciple’s reactions in the climactic moment when Christ declared that one of them was going to betray him. Every apostle had a unique expression, and I hoped to demonstrate it through facial expressions and movement, and I couldn’t achieve that without calculating precise proportions of the face and body.

Alone in the center, Christ’s arms lay open, encompassing him into a triangular shape, expressive of the Divine Trinity, while the four groups around him are each boxed within their areas of the painting. The geometric shapes form the painting and aid in creating the painting’s dialogue. The use of one-point linear perspective, in which the vanishing point is at Christ’s head (the orthogonals can be seen by following the tops of the wall tapestries or the coffers to where they intersect at Christ), which his also framed by the pediment above and back-lit by the open window behind. For the first time, Judas was included. It only strengthens the meaning behind Christ’s words, “One of you is about to betray me.” It adds to the suspense. Judas, however, is shadowed, so that we only see part of his face while he clutches the money bag, containing silver pieces. He is, of course, referring to Judas, but at this point there is commotion as all the apostles question who the betrayer really is. This allowed me to explore the psychological reactions of the figures involved.  We can see this in the various apostles, who are linked by their hand movements.  Emotions range from protest (Philip) to sadness (John, next to Christ) to acceptance (Christ). On the other side, Thomas is upset, and James is shocked. Philip wants an explanation. 
In the final group of three, Jude Thaddeus and Matthew turn to Simon the Zealot for answers. Finally, it shows various shades of horror, anger and disbelief. It’s live, it’s human and it’s in complete contrast to the serene and expansive pose of Jesus himself. Fulfillment surged in me as I glanced at the mural for the last time. It’s complete, I thought, as I walked away from the canvas, and embraced another.

Leonardo da Vinci

Reference:

The commission came almost at perfect timing, as Leonardo was experiencing the worst of his bipolar disorder. It seemed like an ideal distraction, and the risk-taker inside of him was taking over. He invented a new technique, (tempera on dry plaster) to make an illusion of an oil painting. This new method may have sounded promising to the artist, but it proved to be otherwise as years passed by (www.Britannica.com) (www.worldhistory.com). Sadly, the mural went through horrible things the past decade. Not only was a door cut through the wall, right on Jesus’s feet, vibrations from Allied bombings during World War II further contributed to the painting’s destruction. Finally, in 1980, a 19-year restoration effort began. The Last Supper was ultimately restored, but it lost much of its original paint along the way. Obviously, the genius’s work was not very appreciated back then.

Taiba Alfaris

10H

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