The Last Supper is one of the most famous works of art, not only by Leonardo Da Vinci. Da Vinci first painted it on the Santa Maria Delle Grazie Church’s dining room wall in Milan between 1495-1498. The painting, which has survived many adversities over the years, is now trying to be protected with great efforts. We will touch on all these details in the later stages of the article. But first, let’s understand why The Last Supper is so important.
An Innovative Expression
The scene of The Last Supper has been heavily portrayed in art history since the Middle Ages. Although Da Vinci’s work comes to mind directly when the Last Supper is mentioned today, it is possible to come across many other pieces with the same name. Well, why do we mostly care about this disintegrating wall painting among all the depictions of The Last Supper?
As a Renaissance artist, Leonardo Da Vinci was not afraid to experiment with his era’s innovations. Even with the experiments he made in his paintings; he became the pioneer of these innovations. In this sense, The Last Supper was one of the works in which his relentless mind tried something new.
The Last Supper differs from its previous counterparts with its emotional expression. It is not possible to come across this narrative, especially in the Middle Ages. Each apostle is depicted following their character and story. We can understand who they are anyway from some of the clues Leonardo placed.
The work shows us right after Jesus said, “One of you will betray me.” The fear, astonishment, anxiety, and sadness surrounding the apostles add a theatrical atmosphere to the picture. Some of the apostles jumped up in surprise (Bartholomew in the left head), while others leaned on in sorrow (John to the left of Jesus).
Next to John, we see Judas (Judas) with a beard, whose face we cannot fully see, and holding a money bag. The purse he has represents the money he received for telling the Roman soldiers about Jesus’ place. He, too, seems confused and worried at the knowledge that Jesus just gave.
All these details and much more add a profound emotion to The Last Supper. This work is no longer a simple food scene showing the apostles uniformly like their old counterparts. It is much more than that. Despite the devastating news he just gave, his calm and accepted image contrasts with the apostles’ anxious state and dramatically affects.
Undoubtedly, one of the most important contributions of the Renaissance period to painting was perspective. Thanks to the view, the artists had the opportunity to paint more realistic pictures.
We cannot ignore the effect of the use of perspective on Da Vinci’s Last Supper. Thanks to the view, the artist presented a much more in-depth work to the audience.
Looking at The Last Supper, the focus is clearly on Christ. He is in a spot that where the viewer’s eyes turn and focus. Christ stays high in the center, and the other apostles lined up on both sides of it form a triangle form. That supports the spatial perspective.
The place at the Last Supper is not precisely clear. Da Vinci used no striking architectural elements in order not to distract the main subject. However, the visible walls and ceiling limit the scene, making it easier to focus on the figures.
The effect of perspective is also felt on the ceiling and walls. This sense of depth has contributed positively to the Last Supper and every work of art. Finally, the skyline and landscape, clear from the triple windows behind, support the perspective effect.
It is not the place that matters in the Last Supper. For this reason, the architectural details are depicted inconspicuously. However, the figures take place so that the audience can easily connect themselves with the painting. They are not interspersed with an undefined void of space. The realistic depiction of this place increases its effect by supporting the desired feeling.
Efforts To Make The Last Supper Alive
As mentioned above, Leonardo Da Vinci drew The Last Supper in Santa Maria Delle Grazie’s dining room. Painting techniques on the wall were known and applied in that period and long ago. However, Leonardo had other plans for The Last Supper.
The Last Supper is a work on the wall with tempera technique. However, Da Vinci applied the paint on dry plaster in this work. Many of the paintings from that period or before were made using the color before the plaster dries. Today, they are still in excellent condition.
Da Vinci sadly observed the difference between applying paint to dry surfaces and applying to wet surfaces at The Last Supper. The work began to be damaged just a few years after it was built on the wall. The fact that the Last Supper is present in the dining hall is also a significant influence.
Although it is quite suitable for the priests’ dining hall, it is in a humid environment where food is cooked continuously and eaten did not produce good results for the Last Supper. The heavy traffic and heat in the hall also negatively affected the work.
Church residents wishing to preserve the Last Supper found the remedy to open the door to keep the moisture out. However, the painting’s lower part has become unknown to open this door. Today, we do not know exactly how the feet of a few figures, including Jesus, were depicted in the door’s opening. Likewise, as The Last Supper loses its original colors and touches, it becomes tough for us to think about the work’s original state.
The Last Supper is still standing today, despite all the events it has survived (including the bombing of the church where it was located during World War II). The advancing technology and the outstanding restoration effort of the authorities keep it alive. However, we have not been able to prevent natural degradation completely. For this reason, we can only hope that The Last Supper will remain stable for more extended generations.