Feb 7, 2020 in Art
The Last Supper

Art has always been connected with religion. Many different painters embodied the scenes from religious scriptures. The famous scene from the Bible is the Last Supper. Leonardo Da Vinci and Andrea Del Castagno created their own vision of this holy event, vividly manipulating with colors, materials, and ideas. The paper investigates the paintings in their iconographic, historical, and formal contexts.

The Last Supper is actually a real-life event taken from the Bible. Jesus finally has a meal with his apostles before Judas’ betrayal. The most significant events of the Last Supper include Jesus communicating to his apostles that one of them will betray him. The apostles act up in accordance with their individual traits of character. Philip inquires if it is not he who would betray Christ. Jesus replies that the one who will betray him will eat from the same plate as he. Christ sanctifies the bread and tells apostles the Eucharistic words that bread as His body and wine as His blood are the amnesty of sins. The sacrament of confession is a revelation embodied by the great artists on their canvasses.

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Andrea Del Castagno created “The Last Supper” on the dining-hall wall of the Florence convent for Benedict vestals of Saint’Appolonia. After 1860’s suppression, only one fresco that decorated the refectory wall of the monastery was found. The colors on its upper part were whitewashed and the authorship was wrongfully attributed to another painter Uticelli. However, the real authorship was established some time later. Castagno created this fresco in 1447 on his return from Venice. He made it on the wet plaster on the wall and then, when drying, the paints impenetrated  the walling. This painting technique was prevailing in the 15th century pictorial art.

A noticeable figure on the picture is Judas the Betrayer. The figure of pure Saint John is contrastive to Judas’ figure both in poses and location. Andrea depicted him sitting at another side of the table; similar to ancient satyr, Judas symbolizes the personification of Universal evil. The positions of hands of apostles sitting on different sides of the bench are mirrored in a dry realistic manner, which is typical of Early Renaissance epoch. The painting is made in special perspective that can be defined as a linear one, filled with Roman ornamental forms and paneling of marble of tromp l’oeil. Ancient sphinxes depicted on both ends of the benches distract attention from the primary focus of the picture and the spirituality of the Last Supper. Prevailing colors of the picture balance each other and make the mood of the painting intense, sacramental, and irritating.

Castagno’s artistic talent separated him from earlier artistic trends because he thoroughly created each detail on his painting approaching it to the bare naturalism, which is lacking in the works of earlier artists. The style of the painting resembles the “first” style of Romans, trompe l’oeil art, and sculpture of Classicism. Castagno applied a traditional format of composition as the persons at the table are located horizontally. A luxuriantly colored chamber which Jesus and the twelve apostles occupy implies the painter’s intention to form a delusion of a space directed three-dimensionally.

Our Process

Leonardo Da Vinci was probably not familiar with Castagno’s “Last Supper” before creating his own painting as his work was in the monastery which was not open for any outsider. The painting was created in 1498 and was painted on the dining hall wall of Milan monastery of Santa Maria. Due to moisture and dust, it started to spoil almost right after its creation. On the 16th of August, 1943 a bomb hit the monastery wall, which led to further deterioration of the fresco made of double flake of aired plaster. Da Vinci added a layer of black-chalk to the painting in order to make the colors of the oil brighter. He also covered it with tempera on the very surface. The technique used by the painter is an experimental one; it combines chromatic intensity of colors with monumental vividness. Lots of restorers worked on the recovery of the painting through centuries. Now, the recovered painting consists of 42, 5% of Da Vinci’s original painting and 42, 5% of it is restorer’s work. 17, 5% of the original painting is completely destroyed.

15-29 feet Da Vinci’s painting is really immense. The author combines balance and focus of the picture with its perspective, emphasizing the significance of some components. Jesus is the central figure in the painting; all visible spatial lines are oriented at him. Judas Iscariot is not so thoroughly enlightened in Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” in comparison to Castagno’s work. However, he is still a “bad person” depicted sitting fourth from the left side of the Christ and seems a little distant by poses and look. Saint John is depicted by the side of Jesus; due to the lack of experience and his young age, he swoons on both Del Castagno and Da Vinci’s paintings. This picture is a little dramatic and shows Jesus and the apostles actively chatting or gesturing. It is already not a mere restaurant sitting of guests as in Castagno’s interpretation. Among the iconographic symbolic images depicted by Da Vinci are apostles, neo-Platonism, paradise, and Trinity. An exuberant scenery can be seen behind the windows, symbolizing the paradise that can be attained only through the acceptance of Jesus. The traditional catholic symbol of Trinity is featured into images of twelve apostles who are divided into groups of three and three lone windows. Judas is depicted holding a purse with the award for the recognition of the Christ the next day and trying to reach Jesus’ bowl. He symbolizes a Betrayal. Peter is pictured by Judas’ side clutching a knife, which symbolizes his further attempt to defend Christ from imprisonment by cutting a soldier’s ear.

Our Benefits

A Neo-Platonic philosophy is also applied in the picture’s imagery. A famous Greek thinker Plato allegorically underlined the incompleteness of the terrestrial world in his tractate “The Cave”. Da Vinci used geometrical forms that were invented by ancient Greeks to show celestial excellence and to glorify Jesus as the incarnation of the earthy heaven. Therefore, Jesus’ body in the picture forms a spacious triangle, which, in its turn, fixates harmonious construction of the painting. Christ sits under the arc-shaped bedding that can be seen as a sphere that would ideally encircle the triangle. These perfect geometric modes are the attributes of Renaissance commitment to the aforementioned Greek philosophy. All the persons on Da Vinci’s painting gather together and a table is a partition between the ecclesiastical kingdom and the onlooker’s terrestrial realm. It is interesting, however, that Da Vinci’s accent on immaterialist issues in the painting is more realistic than it is in Castagno’s picture.

Religion and art have been connected since time immemorial. The depiction of the Last Supper is a famous theme of many artists through centuries. Thus, Andrea Del Castagno depicted the holy event in 1447 and Leonardo Da Vinci finished creating his masterpiece in 1498. These two works have in common only the major topic; however, the paintings differ greatly in the usage of colors, techniques, and imagery applied by the artists. Thus, Andrea Del Castagno’s featuring of the holy event is a little scanty as the persons in his painting are sitting like guests calmly waiting for their order at the restaurant; no sign of any meaningful action or expression can be noticed. However, a significant distinctive feature of the picture is that Judas is featured sitting at the other side of the table as a Betrayer or an ancient satyr that symbolizes the Universal evil.

Castagno’s “Lust Supper” follows the traditions of Classicism and the first Roman trend of painting pictures on the wall and depicting sphinxes mirroring each other, just like the two apostles’ positions of hands next to the sphinxes mirror each other. Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” is a little more contemporary than Castagno’s work. It has been created a little later and portrays the other facets of the holy event. A more vivid imagery is used in Da Vinci’s depiction of the apostles and surrounding environment, which greatly differs from Castagno’s featuring. Even Maria Magdalena is present on Da Vinci’s picture, which refers to Den Brawn’s world famous book Code Da Vinci. In addition, the conceptual representations of the Last Supper by the two artists differ greatly. However, different ideas of Andrea Del Castagno and Leonardo Da Vinci do not detract from the value and magnificence of their paintings, having made each of them a unique interpretation of a single artist.

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