Undoubtedly one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s most well-known, and both formally and emotionally most impressive work is the Last Supper.
It depicts Christ and his twelve disciples sitting at a long table in a simple and spacious room. The simplicity of the room and the clearness of the Brunelleschian perspective applied in the painting enhance the drama of the scene. In this scene, an intense excitement spreads throughout the twelve disciples as Christ has just announced that “One of you will betray me” (Matthew 26:21). Each disciple questions “It is I?” (Matthew 26:22).
In this painting, Christ is both the compositional focal point and the psychological focus. In contrast to his disciples, Christ remains calm. The central window at the back frames Christ’s figure and diffuses light, serving as a halo to Christ’s head. Moreover, Christ’s head is the focal point of all the converging linear perspective lines in the composition. Thus, Da Vinci strategically made the two-dimensional, three-dimensional, and psycho-dimensional focus all the same in the painting, greatly enhancing its drama and effectiveness.
Da Vinci presented the twelve disciples in four groups, using form and gestures to unify them. The four groups are each groups of three, with two groups on each side of Jesus. By placing Christ on the same side of the table as the disciples, Da Vinci sacrifices traditional iconography to enhance the drama. Judas, the betrayer, sits on the left of Christ. He clutches a bag of money in his right hand and his left hand reaches forward, fulfilling Christ’s declaration: “But yet behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table” (Luke 22:21). The disciples at the end of the table seem calmer than the rest, as if to contain the energy in the painting. The intensity increases as figures get closer to Christ, who seems to radiate calm and serenity. The emotional reactions of the twelve disciples range from fear, to horror, to doubt, to rage, to protestation, to love.
I think that there is so much more to this painting than just what meets the eye. The painting is much deeper than what a layman may be able to understand on his own. Through this blog post, I hope to explain how in this work, as in his other religious works, Da Vinci truly revealed his extraordinary ability to apply his knowledge about the observable world to the pictorial representation of a religious scene, successfully creating a psychologically complex and compelling work of art.