The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

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When one is asked for the names of some of the famous painters who ever lived, Leonardo da Vinci comes to mind instantly. He is credited with the painting of two of the most famous paintings in the world, The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa.

The painting of the last supper is a representation of the last supper in the Bible where Jesus had supper with his disciples. It was known as the last supper for the simple fact that it was indeed the last supper that Jesus was to partake in before his crucifixion (Ghare, 2007). It was painted in Milan for duration of four years, between 1495 and 1498 by da Vinci. In the picture, Jesus is seated at the centre of the table, which holds a lot of food and the apostles are on both his sides.

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According to Esaak, the reason that this painting is so popular lies in the fact that Da Vinci broke all the rules and did a totally unique painting. This was clearly evident in the materials that he used. Instead of using fresco, which was the material of choice for most painters in Italy during that period, he used wet plaster. It was painted for a record four years because of its absolute magnitude; it measured 15 by 29 feet. Also the characters seem to be displaying recognizable emotion openly s. It is like Jesus said something and the apostles were shocked. (2009).

Painting on wet plaster allowed da Vinci to use colors in a very creative way. The colors that depict the clothing worn by the apostles are openly vivid and diverse. The harmony of the colors helps to clearly bring out the different clothing aspects worn by the characters on the painting as well as the food on the table (Barcillon, 19990).

Da Vinci made the use of lines to create perspective in the room as depicted in the painting. The lines help to show that the windows, which are geometric in shape, are in the background, Jesus as the center of attention and the apostles in the fore ground. More lines are used in the paintings with straight ones defining both the ceiling and the door while curved lines are used to physically define the apostles. Placing Jesus in the middle of the painting served to draw the viewer’s attention to the very center of the painting. Moreover, the apostles were painted in such a way that they also helped to enhance the central figure that was Jesus (Keaton, 2005).

The perspective of the painting may be described as one directional. The importance of this is that it allows an observer to clearly see all the features and characters in the painting. By placing Jesus at the centre of the painting and the apostles on either side, da Vinci was able to achieve what can be referred to as bilateral symmetry. Bilateral symmetry is the placing of equal number of objects on the sided in a painting (Esaak, 2009). Da Vinci again used light very well such that he was able to depict the soft features of the characters that were at the table.

The materials used.

As opposed to painting on wet plaster or what was referred to as fresco, da Vinci opted to do the painting on a wall made of dry plaster. (Ghare, 2007) The reason for choosing the wall over wet plaster (fresco) lay in the fact that plaster would greatly impinge on the amount of time that he would spend working on the painting. The painting is therefore done on a stone wall that was first sealed using chalk (made out of a material dubbed gesso) and resin (a mixture of mastic and pitch materials). The Last Supper was then painted on the sealed wall using what is referred to as tempera, which is essentially a mixture of vinegar and egg yolks. He also made use of oil paints (Ghare, 2007). The advantage of first sealing the wall and using tempera was the fact that he was able to paint the painting like he wanted; with great detail. The wall also allowed him to experiment. However, the disadvantage was that the material on which the painting was done proved not to be durable. This is evident in the fact that a few years after it was completed, the overall quality of the painting began to deteriorate (“Olga’s gallery”, N.d.). According to Ghare, the painting did not age well because of the materials that were used (2007). Over the years since the painting was done, the paints that were used chipped off considerably. Moreover, attempts by both historians and painters to restore the painting to its earlier magnificence only served to make things worse (2007).  It could be argued that they did not quite know how to go about restoring the painting or even that they did not use the right materials. However, with the development in technology and with new knowledge and information on the preservation of antique paintings in recent times, the painting was salvaged. Still, those involved in the restoration had their work cut out for them. The task to restore the painting started in 1978 and took a record 21 years to complete. It was finally completed in 1999. Modern technology like infrared reflectoscopy was used to restore the painting. Furthermore, the convent where the painting is to be found was also converted into an environment whose climate was regulated so as to curtail any further deterioration (Ghare, 2007).

The formal characteristics.

The painting measures some 15 by 29 feet in diameter. For a painting that is a depiction of a scene out of the Bible, it is surprising to note that da Vinci did not make use of haloes on the heads of such characters in the painting as Jesus or even the apostles. This was a break from the norm because most of the paintings that were done at that particular period in time had haloes. In most of the 15th century artists either drew or painted haloes on the heads of such characters (Ghare, 2007). There was a reason behind the painting of the characters without the haloes. According to Ghare, da Vinci set out to humanize the painting. By leaving out the haloes, da Vinci was able to bring out the human-like emotions and reactions of Jesus and his apostles (2007).

Da Vinci the artist.

Da Vinci may be described as an eccentric and fastidious person (Farago, 1999). He went against the norm preferring instead to use wet plaster as opposed to fresco for his painting. The reason behind this is the fact that da Vinci had no formal training on the use of fresco. Therefore instead of using fresco, he opted for wet plaster and used tempera on it concentrating more on the artistic effect that he wanted to create more than anything else (“”, 2002). More over, he painted Jesus and the apostles without haloes. This goes to show that he was openly adventurous and more interested in novelty. He was interested in trying out new things.

The culture in which the work was produced.

The painting was done in Italy and specifically Milan way back in the 15th century (Ghare, 2007). 15th century Italy is referred as the renaissance period. This was a culturally progressive period in Italy that resulted in the growth of the economy which in turn spurred the growth of the arts (Murray & Murray, 1963). It marked movement from traditional to a more modern way of life. This was a period where artists began to depict their visual world in a more naturalistic manner, employing good use of space, anatomy and even light. It was a period when rich families, the state and the church began to commission their own portraits and those of classical and/or Biblical heroines and heroes to portray not only moral fortitude but also virtue (“National gallery of the Arts”, 2009).  It was at the request of Duke Sfroza that da Vinci paint the last supper.

Why it was produced.

According to Ghare (2007), the Last Supper painting was painted by Leonardo da Vinci’s at the request of his patron the Duke Ludovico Sfroza and the Duchess Beatrice d’Este. This was the primary reason it was produced. It was the Duke who settled on the Last Supper as the specific religious scene to be painted and he commissioned da Vinci to do so. It could be argued that da Vinci could not at all refuse to paint the scene for he would be paid handsomely, plus he would gain recognition (Esaak, 2009).

Where it is now

The painting can still be found in Milan in a refractory (dining hall) of what is known as the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent (Ghare, 2007). It is in the original mural.

Impact of his work when it was created.

One of the greatest impacts that the last supper painting had when it was created is that it changed how painting was done from then on (Mason, 1993). Paintings gained a more natural look. Through his painting, Da Vinci was able to influence other great painters like Rembrandt. The way he used colors and light on his paintings was to revolutionize how paintings and sculptures were done from then on (Rogers, 2004).

The impact now

According to Farago, the works have always been acknowledged since the 15th century (1999). Moreover, his works have impacted two major fields, art and science (Sasson, 2008). One of the greatest impacts that the painting has had on the modern world is that it has led to tourism. People from different corners of the world travel from far and wide into Italy and especially Milan to the Santa Maria delle convent just to catch a glimpse of the painting. Some do it for pleasure while others do it for educational purposes. The result is that the country earns a lot from the tourism.

It is argued that mankind would not be as civilized and as modern as it is today were it not for the works of da Vinci. He is said to have contributed immensely in to the fields of art and science. He was able to develop scientific laws that have helped today’s man gain better understanding of nature (“Leonardo da Vinci”, N.d.). He was an inspiration to today’s scientists and inventors. His works forms the basis of modern western art and science (Brown, 1998). For instance, he was the first person to invent the airplane, a gadget that has been perfected over time that is commonly in use in today’s world (Usher, 1988).

Leonardo da Vinci is one of the greatest artistic geniuses who ever lived. He was not only a remarkable painter but also an inventor. Despite the fact that his works were produced a long time ago, it continues to influence art and science even to this very day. His painting, “the Last Supper,” totally revolutionize how art was to be carried out from the 15th century. From then on, paintings took on a more naturalistic look. As far as science is concerned, his inventions form the basis of today’s technology. He truly left his mark in the world!


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