Da Vinci’s Last Supper, tapestry at the Vatican Museum

by Victor Grigore, Webphoto.ro

The last supper Jesus and His apostles took before the trial and the crucifixion is one of the most popular scenes in Christian iconography. The tradition is so old, this scene was even drawn on the walls of the catacombs when Christianity was illegal. The biblical foundation of this art motif is the highly significant moment described in all four Gospels. It is the moment when Judas admits his betrayal, when Jesus institutes the holy communion through bread and wine that will come to signify His body and blood. It is followed by one of the most significant sermons and by the act of washing the feet of the apostles, by Jesus.
The Westerners, Catholics and Protestants, call this scene The Last Supper, while the Orthodox Christians in the East tend to emphasize not the chronological, but the religious aspect of what they regard as an ongoing miracle performed at Sunday’s liturgy. Therefor the Greeks call it The Mystical Supper, while others, like Russians and Romanians call it The Mysterious Supper. The representations alike differ from East to West.
In the East the table is usually round and the characters are presented in the typical Byzantine style. Usually only Christ has an aura, as it is supposed that the apostles received the Holy Spirit at the Pentecost, 50 days after the resurrection. In other variants, only Judas lacks the aura. In many icons and frescoes, the characters sit on pillows at the table, with the Eastern depictions tending to present an immobile Christ as if sitting on a throne. Modern historians question whether the Jewish lower class of antiquity would have used chairs and tables at all, and rather take a more oriental position, leaning on some pillows and eating with one hand the food laid over a cloth on a bed or on the floor. Coincidentally or not, this is closer to what it looks like when Christ is presented in the Byzantine fashion, inside of a mandorla, an almond shape aura in which the icon of nativity and that of the resurrection is portrayed. A conservative Orthodox depiction can be seen here, in a fresco in Studenica Monastery, Serbia.
The order in which the characters sit at the table as well as the clothing and the room has changed largely in the East as well as in the West.
The most famous Western depiction of the Last Supper belongs to Leonardo da Vinci, and was copied numerous times in the West as well as in the East, as painting, mosaic, bass-relief, embroidery, photographic collage or computer generated graphics. The original is a fresco, found in an Italian monastery in Milan. A mosaic reproducing at 1/1 scale the painting can be seen in Vienna in the Minoritenkirche.
The tapestry found in the Vatican Museum also reproduces Da Vinci’s work at full scale and it’s made in a Flemish workshop (a region occupied today by parts of Netherlands, Belgium and France). The centuries passed have washed away a lot of the colors on the woven material, now protected by a glass. There are numerous differences between the original and this tapestry, from the position of some characters, the colors of their clothings, while the background behind the characters is completely changed. Before the painting acquired worldwide recognition, the monks in the Italian monastery broke the wall on which the original fresco sits, in order to build a door to their dining room. In the tapestry at the Vatican, the missing space, which includes the legs of Jesus, is presented, though its hard to know whether this was done before the door opening was made or the missing part was added from imagination.
Though Leonardo’s depiction of the Last Supper is the most famous, after Renaissance, the world has seen some impressive tackles of this theme. Tintoretto’s painting impresses by the fascinating glows of light in a dim room, while that of Paul Rubens’ is the most dramatic and original, with an insight to characters’ psychological reactions.

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