The Last Supper by Da Vinci: Facts & Location

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  • 0:00 The Painting and its…
  • 1:28 Description
  • 3:04 Medium
  • 3:49 Speculations
  • 4:28 Restoration
  • 5:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Williams

Jennifer has taught various courses in U.S. Government, Criminal Law, Business, Public Administration and Ethics and has an MPA and a JD.

In this lesson, we'll learn about the painting The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. We'll look at why the painting was commissioned, what the figures in the painting represent and attempts to preserve the painting for future generations to enjoy.

The Painting and Its Commission

The Last Supper was an intricate work completed by Leonardo da Vinci. This painting depicts the shock and horror of the twelve disciples upon learning that one amongst them was going to betray Jesus Christ. The work took years to complete, and attempts to salvage it for future generations to enjoy have taken centuries.

The Last Supper was commissioned in 1494 by the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza . The painting was to be completed in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie in Milan, Italy. The wall chosen was the end wall of the dining hall. Sforza had hoped to create a Sforza family mausoleum in that room, and the painting was to be the centerpiece. Leonardo da Vinci began work on the mural in 1495.

The mural depicts the last supper of Jesus with his apostles as described in the Gospel of John 13:21 before he was crucified. The dimensions are 181 inches by 346 inches, or approximately 15 feet by 29 feet. Da Vinci makes clear the angst amongst the disciples upon learning that one of them seated at that table was going to betray Jesus. Da Vinci did not continuously work only on this project. In fact, it took him over three years to complete, with the final mural being displayed in 1498.

Description

The painting depicts the reaction of the disciples upon learning that one of them would betray Jesus. The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci reveal the names and reactions of the different apostles seated at the table. Bartholomew, James (son of Alpheus) and Andrew sit in a group of three. Together, they give the appearance of genuine surprise at the news.

Next we see the group of Judas Iscariot, Peter and John. Judas seems to fade off into the background. He appears to be holding a bag of money. Experts disagree on whether Da Vinci had intended this to be representative of the silver he was paid to betray Jesus or the fact that he was treasurer of the disciples. Judas is also tipping over the salt shaker, which symbolizes the Eastern expression that tipping over the salt is to betray one's master. In this grouping, Peter appears to be angry, and his handling of the knife seems to foreshadow his reaction to Jesus' arrest. The youngest disciple of the group, John, appears to be fainting.

In the middle sits Jesus, who appears to be encircled with light.

In the third grouping of three, we see an upset apostle Thomas with a raised index finger, which could be indicative of his shock to learn of the resurrection. James the Greater and Philip both appear to be stunned. James is depicted with his arms in the air.

In the final grouping of three, Matthew, Jude Thaddeus and Simon the Zealot are looking at one another, seemingly searching for answers.

Medium

Leonardo da Vinci painted The Last Supper, which is a mural, on a regular stone wall. He first used a layer of pitch, gesso and mastic and then painted on that layer with tempera. It was at first assumed that the painting was a fresco, where an artist paints directly on wet plaster, but it is not. This misguided belief caused damage in attempts at restoration as the work began to deteriorate a few short years after it was completed.

There are two known exact copies of The Last Supper, both of which are assumed to have been completed by those assisting da Vinci. One hangs in the Royal Academy of Arts in London and the other hangs in the Church of St. Ambrogio in Ponte Capriasca, Switzerland.

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