According to Christian Biblical accounts, The Last Supper is the event at which Jesus Christ bid farewell to the Apostles, serving them bits of bread and telling them the bread were His flesh and serving them wine and telling them the wine were His blood. The Last Supper is the origin of the sacramental ritual of the Eucharist, a ritual which differs in spiritual purpose and meaning from Christian religion to Christian religion.

The Last Supper is also a brilliant independent film, wherein a group of liberal grad students decide the world would be better off without some of the more agressive right-wing chicklet lobed morlocks. If you had a time machine and were suddenly face to face with a young painter named Adolf Hitler, would you kill him? Have some wine.

Leonardo da Vinci's painting on this subject is fairly interesting to look at and contains many subtle details that escape the notice of most people, as they simply see the typical religious scene. These details are somewhat disturbing and express somewhat heretical points of view. All references to the painting in this writeup are with the figure of Jesus at the center of the painting as reference, to avoid any confusion.

  • Seated to the right of Jesus, turned away from him, is an unmistakably feminine figure. Commentators explain this away as being the disciple John (who is said to be very young), but note the very feminine bodice and facial features of the figure.
  • This female figure forms a letter "M" with Christ. To some commentators, this would indicate that the female figure is actually Mary Magdalene.
  • A hand that cannot possibly belong to anyone visible at the table cuts across the female figure's neck.
  • The sixth figure from the left of Jesus (the second figure from the left edge of the painting, in profile), looks almost exactly like Jesus himself. He is even dressed identically, the only difference is that the "real" Jesus has his robe draped on his left shoulder.
  • There is a hand holding a dagger, positioned in such a way as to not belong to any of the figures on the table, pointed threateningly at the third person at the right side of Jesus.
  • The first figure on Jesus' left side is raising his finger upwards in an expression that characterized John the Baptist in many of Leonardo's other works (e.g. his 1513-16 painting and his sculpture). From his facial expression it seems as if this figure is urging Jesus to remember John.
  • The fifth figure on Jesus's left, turned away and with a disdainful expression, looks remarkably like Leonardo himself, as though he were expressing his own disdain for Jesus Christ.
  • There does not seem to be any wine on the table, only bread apparently. It may seem like a minor quibble but the fact is both the bread and the wine were a major feature of the Last Supper. Not displaying "the blood of the new and everlasting covenant" that would be "shed for you and for all men so that sins may be forgiven" which is what the wine is supposed to symbolize is an attempt to minimize or nullify that symbolism.

These kinds of inconsistencies point to the fact that Leonardo may have been versed in a secret heretical tradition, perhaps the Mandaean heresy that believed Jesus to be an impostor who usurped the messiahship from John the Baptist. He may well have accepted the commission to produce such a patently Christian work as a means to secretly slip in some subversive doctrines to those who would take the time to look beyond the religious scene into what the painting really depicted. It would have been his joke on the exoteric power that suppressed his esoteric beliefs.

It could be a just mere coincidence if these inconsistencies appear in only one work, but in fact they are also present in one of the two "Virgin of the Rocks" paintings he made (the one made from 1483-1486 and is now at the Louvre), which had been the subject of a long-running legal dispute between Leonardo and the monastery that commissioned the work. Another work that displays the same kind of suspiciously heretical ideas is his "Adoration of the Magi" (1481-1482).

These strange facts about Leonardo's paintings are among the subject matter of Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince's book The Templar Revelation, which gives a somewhat different account of the Prieure de Sion from that presented in Holy Blood, Holy Grail.

In about the year 30 CE, Jesus of Nazareth came up to Jerusalem for what he rightly guessed would be his last Passover. He arrived about a week before the festival, and during that week he made some of his most dramatic prophecies, and took direct action that enraged his conservative enemies. He condemned all the political parties of the Temple - the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Scribes - and recalled the killing of earlier prophets. He prophesied the destruction of the Temple, and the end of the world. Moreover, he nearly started a riot by driving the moneychangers out of the Temple. After nearly a week of this, tempers in the city were running high. With just over twenty-four hours to go before the beginning of the sabbath-day of the Passover, Jesus and his close friends came together for a final meal. According to some versions, the room where supper was to be eaten was found by two disciples following a (seemingly random) man carrying a pitcher, and being led to a house where a table was set for dinner.

The meal was a simple one, of bread, soup, and wine. Jesus doesn't seem to have been the life and soul of the party. While the group were dining, he announced that one of them would betray him, and that another would deny him. All the apostles loudly denied this, but according to John's account, Judas Iscariot slipped out to meet the high priests before the end of dinner. Most accounts agree that during the meal, Jesus shared out the bread, and told his friends 'this is my body', and that when passing around the cup of wine afterwards, he said 'this is my blood'. The earliest account of this is in St Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, where Paul links this event to the Christian custom of a shared meal of bread and wine. Jesus also announced that the one who betrayed him would be someone who had dipped his bread in the soup. In John's gospel, Jesus directly indicates the betrayer by dipping the bread himself and giving it to Judas. Also in John's version is the story of Jesus washing the disciples' feet.

That day would come to be known as the first Maundy Thursday. 'Maundy' is derived from the Latin 'mandatum', meaning 'commandment', and in John 13:34 we read of Jesus giving his followers 'A new commandment: love each other'. After the meal was over, they sang a hymn, and then Jesus crossed the brook Kedron to the garden of Gethsemane, a favoured retreat of his on his visits to Jerusalem. There he prayed to be spared the death which he had foreseen, but as he was leaving, Judas came and greeted him with a kiss, by which Jesus was identified to the Roman soldiers sent to arrest him for subversion and heresy. Simon Peter, who had protested so loudly when Jesus washed his feet, was the one who would deny all knowledge of Jesus that night.

Accounts of the Last Supper are found in Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-26, Luke 22:7-38, John 13:1-17:26, and 1 Corinthians 11:23-25. The meaning of Jesus' words and actions on that evening have been much debated by Christians and others down the years. The doctrine of transubstantiation asserts that Jesus' words over the bread and wine are to be taken literally; the doctrine of the real presence says that although no physical change is to be inferred, the elements present the reality of Jesus; and others believe that the bread and wine are just bread and wine. The Last Supper has been depicted in art many times, most famously by Leonardo da Vinci, in an image which has itself been spoofed and copied many times.

The Last Supper Mosaic in the Monreale Cathedral

The Last Supper scene portrayed in the mosaics of the Monreale Cathedral is of the Byzantine style. This means that the figures are for the most part frontal and static. This scene is located on the walls of the Cathedral, which is interesting because many of the Last Supper scenes that we saw were located in the refectories of monasteries and other dining places. In this rendering, Judas is kneeling in front of the table, facing Christ with his hands clasped together. He is the only one on that side of the table. Because this is in the Byzantine style, there is no real sense of perspective and therefore the table itself does not have much depth. The figures (the other eleven disciples) are seated in a semicircle around the table, with Christ seated at the head of the table on the left of the scene. Next to Christ is John the Apostle, whom Christ is consoling. Although not all of the figures are facing the front, their eyes portray the typical Byzantine feel in that they are big without much life. Unlike most of the Last Supper frescoes and paintings that we saw along our trip, this is merely a single panel that is part of the whole story. It does not serve the same reflective purpose as Leonardo’s painting; it only adds to the complete story of the life of Christ.

Because there is only emphasis place on the viewer, this depiction adheres to Gombrich’s first stage—the magico-medical theory. The artist was directed to create this scene. He probably did not feel the same emotions viewing as creating.

The Renaissance rendering of the Last Supper that is perhaps the most famous of all Last Supper depictions was painted by Leonardo da Vinci. In his portrayal, da Vinci uses a one-point perspective style. The vanishing point he uses disappears behind Christ’s head. Christ is in the middle of the group, with the disciples divided into four groups around Him. However, in creating these divisions, Leonardo groups the disciples close enough together that it is not completely obvious. Another reason the painting must be categorized as a Renaissance painting is because of the classical building structures that appear in the background. The vanishing point, divisions and classical structures allow the painting to maintain a strict order. This order is also an indicator of the Renaissance style.

Some of the interesting characteristics that make this painting unique are in the hand gestures and facial expressions. Perhaps the most astounding aspect of this fresco is that instead of choosing to portray the moment before telling his disciples that one would betray him, Leonardo chooses to portray the seconds after the announcement. Because of this, each disciple is shown reacting in his own way. For example, disciples are shown with their hands flung in accusation at the others. Some are thrown back, signifying their innocence. Others look around wondering and guessing as to whom the betrayer is. No one, however, is looking to Judas, who is the figure on the same side of the table, two people away from Christ. John is probably the most noticeable of the disciples, as he is situated closest to Christ and wears an extremely somber facial expression. While many of the other disciples show tense facial expressions and emotion, it is John who shows the most emotion in his simple face. Christ’s facial expression is similar to John’s. Leonardo painted this Last Supper in the refectory, so unlike the mosaics in the Cathedral, this painting served a specific purpose during meal times.

It is important to note da Vinci achieves some of the techniques through four categories that help classify it as a Renaissance piece of art. Some of the reasons we are drawn to such a painting are related to ideas such as the chorus effect, emphasis, affetti and projectives. Dealing with the chorus effect, Leonardo places ephasis on Christ—who is the main character—by placing him in the middle and surrounding him with other characters. This placement is crucial to understanding the story. Da Vinci places emphasis on placement and hand gestures. Such emphasis on those chaotic around a pensive Christ shows the emotional contrast among the disciples.

Although this painting is very much a Renaissance painting, the facial expressions are such that they have an effect on the viewer. Such affetti communicate the emotions that must be present at this moment at the dinner table. Christ shows his sadness, others show disbelief. Because of these facial expressions and hand gestures the viewer can almost create a dialogue of what the disciples are saying.

The Last Supper scene that best represents the Baroque period is by the painter Tintoretto. Located in San Martino church in Lucca, this painting uses light and colors to accentuate certain aspects of the scene. The most unique point of interest of this painting is the way the artist chose to portray the scene. Instead of painting Christ in the middle of a horizontal table with disciples on either side, Tintoretto painted the scene as though the viewer is entering the dinner himself, looking in on the action which is taking place. Whereas Leonardo’s painting seems as though the disciples and Christ are posing for a portrait, Tintoretto’s painting shows the figures in action and allows the viewer to see what’s happening without disturbing their supper. The artist accomplishes this several ways. For one, the table is not painted horizontally. Instead, the table goes back into the painting in a vertical fashion. Because the scene is not painted for the purpose of recognizing that it is the Last Supper, there is more action, more movement and more liveliness in the figures. Christ is standing and feeding Peter. He is not sitting with his hands in the blessed position. He is doing, acting, moving– He is seemingly human. There are also extraneous characters in the corners of the painting– people who are watching the scene just as the viewer is. They are women and children, animals and cherubs. Like Leonardo’s fresco, there is the use of a vanishing point behind Christ’s head, however, the positioning of the disciples is such that the vanishing point is not clear. The painting has an extremely circular feel to it, which allows the viewer to enter at the end of the table and follow around and up to Christ and back down.

The characters in the painting, namely the disciples and Christ are all involved in some kind of movement or action. In contrast to the Leonardo fresco, this scene is not when Christ tells his followers that someone has betrayed him. Instead, they are merry, relaxed and enjoying the food. They are talking to each other. They are even talking to Judas. Their hands show that they are in conversation and not in accusation of each other. In actuality, it is possible for a viewer to see this painting and not consider it to be a Last Supper depiction, simply because of the conversation and activity that is being shown.

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