The Last Supper
The Last Supper was a very powerful Biblical event, in which Jesus and his disciples
gathered for one final dinner together. According to the Bible, important events took place
during the Last Supper, including an announcement by Jesus that one of his disciples
would betray him and the first communion. To artists in the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries, it was necessary to give proper deference to such notable occurrences.
Leonardo da Vinci and Jacopo Robusti, known as Tintoretto, took upon the challenge of
recreating the Last Supper. While Last Supper by da Vinci and Last Supper by Tintoretto
are very similar in subject matter, they differ in composition, symbolism, and the choice of
The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci is the first great figure composition of the
High Renaissance and the definitive interpretation of its theme. Jesus and his twelve
disciples are seated at a long table that is parallel to the picture plane.
The room is
spacious and peaceful, and Christ has his arms spread in disposed trust . The rest of the
group is in intense and dramatic excitement, with their hands out in shock and question at
Jesus words. The viewer can just feel the tense excitement sweeping through the groups
of disciples. Jesus, the most important figure in the painting, has been placed in front of
three windows that are in the back of the room, and he is framed by the center window
with a curved pediment that arches above his head.
His head serves as the focal and
vanishing point of this piece, and your eye is immediately attracted to it. Da Vinci has
arranged the disciples into groups of three and tied all the groups together through their
hand motions giving this piece a symmetrically aesthetic feeling. Your eye is taken on a
journey through the oval-shaped composition of the piece, but it is clear that Jesus serves
as the vital magnet. The Last Supper by Tintoretto is a beautiful Mannerist-style painting
in which the painter creates a revolutionary type of composition.
The pieces surface plane
now shoots in a diagonal motion and Jesus is noticeable only because of the light around
his head. There is a feeling of unsure commotion throughout the figures as they lean into
uncomfortable positions, such as the maid in the foreground. The figures also seem to
blossom in light through a darkness of the background. The two brightest areas, Jesus and
the light fixture, fight for the viewer’s attention and create a sense of uncertainty,
perfecting what the Mannerists set out to accomplish.
The use of symbolism in both Da Vincis and Tintorettos Last Supper is important
to the interpretation of each piece. Da Vinci is the first known artist to place Judas, the
disciple who betrays Jesus, on the same side of the table as Christ. This subtly symbolizes
the trust that Jesus shared with his followers, and it is more realistic. By placing Christ in
the center, as the focal point, with orthagonals leading towards him, Da Vinci creates a 3-
D/pyramid effect with Christ that shows his still and stable calmness and poise amongst
the distraught group.
He also places Jesus inside the second window, symbolizing Jesus
position as Christ, the son in the Christian trinity. The group of twelve is split into groups
of threes, symbolizing the trinity, and supporting the symmetry. Tintorettos Last Supper
uses symbolism very differently. He places genre figures throughout the painting, such as
the waitresses, to ground the viewer in reality.
This may act as his way of making the
piece more realistic or closer to personal experience and therefore, more comfortable. Yet,
he also places angels flying into the room, throwing off this grounded feeling but giving a
nice balance of both heaven and Earth.
These two accomplished artists, Da Vinci from the High Renaissance Period, and
Tintoretto from the time of Mannerism, decided to paint the same event, but chose
different narrative moments, exemplifying each of their purposes. Leonardo da Vinci
chose to illustrate the moment in which Jesus proclaims that one of his disciples shall
betray him, creating a sense of shock and question.
Each of the followers of Jesus