Deep Into The Last Supper


Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper painting was commissioned by Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. Sforza wanted Da Vinci to paint this image on the wall in the dining hall of Santa Maria delle Grazie, a church in Northern Italy. Unlike other presentations of The Last Supper, Leonardo’s version depicts a specific moment in time. The enormous painting (15 feet by 29 feet) shows the moment just seconds after Jesus explained to his disciples that one of them will betray him and turn him in to the authorities. Da Vinci’s use of perspective, moreover, allows for so much more detail of the subjects.

Da Vinci makes this piece look almost 3D with his use of depth. All thirteen men are placed perfectly behind the table. The back wall looks as if it was several feet behind them. Thomas’s head shows but his body is covered by James the Greater. Peter’s neck is behind Judas but his face is shown in the ear of John the apostle. In their interactions with each other, trying to find out who the traitor is, Da Vinci depicts the sadness and confusion in their faces after Jesus reveals his inevitable betrayal. Peter is especially confused and begins whispering to John the apostle to ask him who Jesus was talking about (King, 181).

Leonardo didn’t make this mural painting the way others were made. Instead of using pigments and plaster, Da Vinci started out using a strong base coat on the wall of the church. After laying the base coat of lead white on the wall, Da Vinci hammered a nail into the plaster. The nail identified the center of the mural, which was where all lines and attention would be, the face of Jesus. Leonardo called this nail the “diminishing point” which was the location where all lines of sight “tend and converge.” You can still see the small hole in the right temple of Jesus inside the church.

Da Vinci painted the disciples so that you could tell their emotions by their body language and hand gestures. The hand gestures shown by many of the disciples express their thoughts. Leonardo used this technique often but more so in The Last Supper. The painting is full of gestures and expressions that suggest the disciples are shocked, confused, and even sad after Jesus makes his statement. To the left of Jesus, Philip’s hands are on his chest, James the Greater has his hands thrown wide open, while John closes his hands together. Peter has one hand on John the apostle and is holding a knife in the other hand. John has one of the simpler hand gestures with his hands together on the table and his fingers interlaced. Leonardo noted that this gesture could be used to indicate sorrow.

John the apostle was the disciple “whom Jesus loved.” He is portrayed as a slightly feminine character in this painting. The reason for this is mainly because he is much younger than the other disciples. Although John the apostle looks feminine in most Last Supper paintings, Leonardo made him look this way so that people would recognize him when they saw him beside Christ. During the time of the Last Supper, he is leaning on Jesus’s bosom and is still there after Jesus warns them of a traitor. Peter then asks John who Jesus was speaking of. John asked Jesus saying, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus replies “He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it” and then when he dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot.

Judas, the traitor, is among the group of disciples. He is sitting in between John the apostle and Peter while holding the bag of coins that had been given to him for the betrayal of Jesus. Inside this bag was money that Judas had received from the chief priests. He had gone to them and made a bargain. Judas asked them what they would give him if he would lead them to where Jesus was. They then counted out and presented Judas with the thirty pieces of silver. During the time of The Last Supper, Judas arrives with the bag of coins but still is unsuspicious to the other disciples. This was because Judas was the treasurer of the disciples. The disciples were used to him carrying money so he gained no attention when Jesus told the disciples there was a traitor in the midst of them.

Da Vinci managed to capture The Last Supper’s most climatic moment and make it look more realistic than ever. He did this using many schemes, from how he gave the disciples different facial expressions and hand gestures, all the way down to how he positioned them so that they could interact the way he wanted them to. Da Vinci gave us a clearer view of how The Last Supper went down, all the while making it easy for us to know who is who in the painting.

King, Ross. Leonardo and the Last Supper. London: Bloomsbury, 2012. Print.

“Last Supper – History.” Last Supper – History. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 July 2016. <http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/davi/project/history.htm>.

The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments. New York: American Bible Society, 1962. Print.