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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