Among religious subjects, the events of the last supper have always been a great focus of interest for artists. The pictorial representation of the meal date back to the times of early Christianity. The last Supper painting is the display of the reactions of the Twelve Apostles when Jesus announced on the last meal before his crucifixion that one of them would betray him, as mentioned in all four gospels. Many of the great masters of art have addressed this theme in their art pieces, giving their own exclusive touch to the depiction of the event. Among them the masterpieces belong to Leonardo Da Vinci, Tintoretto and Veronese. (Life in Italy, n.d)
Leonardo Da Vinci also known to public as ‘The Renaissance Man’ is a great man in history, as influential as an artist and as talented as an inventor. Born as an illegitimate child to a lawyer in 1452 in Italy, he grew up in his father’s custody and was soon recognized as an apprentice of the great master Verrocchio in Florence. An apprentice of such a great talent that after seeing his work Verrocchio resolved to never to paint again. It was in 1483 when Leonardo went to Milan and started working for Sfruzo, the Duke of Milan. It was due to this patron of Leonardo that he was able to bring his talents of art, sculpting, mechanics, machinery and anatomy into practice. Marco Rosci mentioned in his biography Leonardo that Leonardo was a man of the empirical approach in his thoughts and opinions, verifying every piece of truth before accepting it. His activities were not in accordance with the cultural beliefs of the papal court and he was always in a conflict between the customs and the new arising disturbing visions. On the other hand, Leonardo mentioned in his own manuscript H, that virtues find favor with god, whereas evil is contrary to god and leads to hell. His paintings have also displayed the religious themes and people. It is difficult to come to a definite opinion, but it can be said that he was a Christian but was not beholden to the classic Roman Catholic view in all of his beliefs. (David, 1999). Renaissance was a time of mathematical, religious and political events. He worked for the nobles, but being a humanist his central focus had always been human beings rather than the ongoing events. His work shows his interest in working out the means to ease the ways of life of humans (Cline, n.d).
Leonardo was peculiar in his art works as they were different from artists of that time. They displayed sketches to portraits and cartoons, designs for machineries and anatomical display. His works were not contemporary. A display of embryo in a womb and bare skull on one sheet showing the beginning and end of life, two engines of destruction and construction, this is not a mere collection of objects but processes such as growth and decay, hidden truths and life being revealed in them. His notes should also be considered in the light of the same school of thought. Revealing his work as he quotes: a result of simple experience and the status of painter as a lord of his hands drawing his own universe (Leonardo Da Vinci.net, n.d)
When The Last Supper painting is mentioned, Leonardo Da Vinci’s name is the first to come to mind. The Last Supper’s version by Leonardo is a mural that is preserved and displayed in the Santa Maria Church in Italy. It is covering a wall of refractory; it was commissioned by Sfruzo to be the centerpiece of mausoleum. The scene has been painted before but what Leonardo displayed is truly unique. He painted the event with real human emotions giving the sense of shock, excitement and anger all present at the scene when Jesus made his announcement. Names of apostles taken from Da Vinci’s manuscript from left to right are Bartholomew, James Minor, and Andrew, who are depicted with an impression of a surprise. Judas is separated from others holding the bag of silver, perhaps the payment of his betrayal or his role as treasurer among the apostles. Peter is angry holding a knife and John seems swoon. A look on Thomas shows his agitated expression, Philip is all confused and James the Greater is stunned. Mathews and Thaddeus are turned towards Simon asking for an explanation. A great achievment in Leonardo’s The Last Supper is his central perspective. Regardless of the side from which one looks at the picture, his mind will directly focus on the center - Christ with his calm look. Moreover, the lightings are painted in such a way as to make Christ the center. All the diners are seated on one side of the rectangle table. Leonardo has painted the feet of Christ shown on the lower central part of the picture under the table. This piece of art is not a true fresco as it has been made on dry plaster. Leonardo’s work of The Last Supper has remained a reference for painting, photography and movies, a speculation for writers and a historic piece for its audience (Essak, n.d).
Tintoretto belongs to the same period as Leonardo. He was born in 1518 to a dyer’s family in Venice. He got this nick name as it meant ‘the little painter guy’. Tintoretto was a great asset of Venetian school. He was not able to take the apprenticeship of Titian, but he was his great admirer. Inspired by the work of Michelangelo, he incorporated the depiction of the large muscular figures in his art, but soon developed his own sense of expression through the use of vibrant shades and lights. The words written in his studio indicated towards his inspirations as “Michelangelo design and Titian colors” (Piosh, 2002).
Tintoretto was a follower of the Baroque painting that reflected political and cultural changes occurring across Europe at that time. The main features of that painting concept were grandeur and emotions. He was a religious man as evident from his religious commissions representing his religious subjects in a mystical way. The stylistic features are blended together in the elongated forms, forceful strokes, dynamic articulation and mastery in light in his works. All of these have been combined with boldness in his masterpieces to display the mannerist style picturing the scene with spiritual content (Encyclopedia of Art, n.d).
The Last Supper painting by Tintoretto is a well portrayed display of Tintoretto’s stylistic amalgam and his Venetian approach. Tintoretto’s version holds the same basic theme, as of Leonardo’s. But it is described with more drama allowing the apostles to not only be visualized through facial expressions, but also allowing their bodies to speak, really making them the subjects. The rectangle table, fine clothing and the table linen were all replaced by diagonal placed table and ragged clothes that are not a focus in audience’ view and the event was displayed as a chaotic one. All of these things are showing Apostles’ shock and anger in a theatrical way. Light aspect is catered beautifully to enhance the vividness of the scene. The perspective is pyramidal with the corners pointing towards the center, a flaw causes eyes to go astray. Christ is mingled with the crowd. Unknown people in the painting are depicting the visitors of the church (Best artists, 2008).
Paolo Veronese, another great artist of late Renaissance was born in 1528 in Verona to a sculptor’s family. Starting on footsteps of his father he soon realized his passion for painting and took the apprenticeship of Antonio Badile, a Veronese artist. Soon his work took notice of Titian and there it started the period of his inspiration from Titian’s work. The style adopted by Veronese elaborates the peacefulness of Titian’s work in fresco composition. Thinly applied paint with delicate brush strokes giving life to the pale white marble. A story being told on the back ground of decorative painting. Veronese’ works were largely inspired by the Christian themes as can be depicted through his works of S. Sebastiano, Temptation of St. Anthony’s and many other commissions. In addition this is displayed by artist’s decorative paintings for villas and palaces. Heroes, gods, animals, landscapes and beautiful shining skies are some characteristic pieces of his artwork giving a sense of refreshment to its viewer (Bookrags, n.d).
In 1573, Veronese was asked to paint The Last Supper for a convent in the city of Venice in order to replace a piece made by Titian that was lost in fire. Veronese’ version of ‘The Last Supper’ has an interesting story to tell. It was a 15 meter high and 12 meter wide portrait oil painting that displayed the scene of not only the Christ and his apostles, but different additions as well. Cats, dogs, midgets, drunk people and Germans were painted by Veronese giving a chaotic, disorganized display. There was also no Mary Magdalene but instead a dog had been painted. The Veronese’ version of The Last Supper was irreverent. Veronese took liberties in painting a scene that was a part of Christian faith and that led to inquisition. The artist though maintained his defense by saying that those characters were added regarding their artistic contribution and not the religious orthodoxy. At the end, Veronese did not follow the court orders to change the scene, but renamed his version as Feast in the house of Levi (Eye witness to history, 2008).
Hendrik William said: “The arts are an even better parameter of what is happening in our world than the stock markets and the debates”. (Thinkexist.com, n.d) The Last Supper is not a mere portrait, but a piece of time that can be viewed again and again through these descriptions of the gospels. In all of its versions, The Last Supper allows one to wonder, imagine and think, revealing how art reflects the changes that are occurring across the time.