Following the destructive Black Death, which decimated one-third of Europe’s population by the end of the 14th century, a significant societal shift was underway. The Last Supper took place during this period as society sought transformation. From Florence, Italy, new ideas and beliefs about the purpose of life gradually began to spread.
During the Renaissance, a wave of new ideas and artistic creations emerged, shaping the era. These innovative concepts greatly impacted artwork, literature, and thinking. Leonardo Da Vinci was instrumental in introducing fresh ideas and creating extraordinary paintings during this period. This paper analyzes Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece “The Last Supper”. The Renaissance is defined as “The humanistic revival of classical art, architecture, literature, and learning that originated in Italy in the 14th century and later spread throughout Europe.” (Conservapedia, 2009)
The Renaissance movement lasted from the 14th to 17th centuries and originated in Italy. It quickly spread throughout Western Europe. (Conservapedia, 2009) Historians view the humanist mentality as lying between medieval supernaturalism and the modern scientific and critical attitude. Medievalists perceive humanism as the culmination of the “Middle Ages.” (Grendler, 2006) Humanism is regarded as a philosophy rather than a religion. It began as a conservative departure from medieval Christianity and evolved into a bold rejection of the medieval tradition.
According to Grendler (2006), humanism was a belief that emphasized the value of life on Earth and the idea that one did not need to lead a miserable existence in order to attain salvation. Humanists believed that life was replete with beauty and opportunities for enjoyment, adopting a positive perspective and focusing on individual self. They believed that a person’s life was defined not by their circumstances at birth, but by their actions and achievements. Leonardo Da Vinci, an important figure from the Renaissance, was a notable humanist. He was born to Ser Piero, a 25-year-old notary, and Caterina, a peasant girl.
Leonardo Da Vinci was born in 1452 near Florence, France and began his artistic journey as an apprentice for Andrea Del Verrochio. He continued his education under the patronage of the Duke of Milan, where he explored innovative painting and sculpting techniques.
Da Vinci, an esteemed Italian painter, is famous for iconic works like the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. In addition to painting, he excelled in sculpture, invention, architecture, and mathematics. Notable among his creations are designs for a calculator and a helicopter.
The Last Supper, created in 1495, is one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpieces.
Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” demonstrates his intelligence and artistic talents. In comparison to other paintings of the same period, this mural exhibits a more simplified style. It was created in Milan and currently decorates the dining hall at Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan as well. The artwork showcases dynamic movement and skillful manipulation of light and shadow. Interestingly, da Vinci opted to paint it on a dry wall rather than wet plaster, first sealing the stone with pitch, gesso, and mastic before applying tempera paint. However, due to the use of tempera paint, restoration was necessary for this masterpiece.
In 1977, the Milan Commission of Artistic and Historical Heritage commissioned Pinin Brambilla Barcilon to restore a painting that was originally made by Leonardo for Duke Ludovivo Sforza and Duchess Beatrice d’Este (Art, 2004). The painting depicts a scene from The Last Supper, showcasing Jesus’ final days. Leonardo devoted much of his life to creating lifelike paintings, which marked a departure from previous religious art styles. Numerous attempts have been made by many individuals to decode hidden messages within the Last Supper, including flipping it, examining it in reverse, and even merging the reversed image with the original.
The Da Vinci Code, a book written by Dan Brown, delves into the intriguing codes employed by Da Vinci in his paintings. These artworks draw inspiration from biblical verses regarding the Last Supper as described in the book of Matthew. The passage recounts: “Now when the evening was come, he sat down with the twelve. And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. And they were exceedingly sorrowful and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I? And he answered and said, ‘He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me.” -Matthew 26 (Bible).
The painting depicts the last supper of Jesus and his twelve disciples. Leonardo da Vinci envisioned how he imagined the event would unfold. Instead of the traditional arrangement of people sitting around a table, da Vinci positioned them facing the room so that every face could be seen. Interestingly, he subtly hinted at the presence of a woman without making it overt. This woman could possibly represent Mary at the last supper. Furthermore, da Vinci portrayed Judas holding a bag of silver, even though in the biblical story Judas had not yet been paid.
It was not a factual item, but rather a suggestion of who Judas was. In the painting, there is a knife protruding from Judas’ back. Later in the biblical story, Peter uses the same knife to defend Jesus. Leonardo wasn’t aiming to depict the actual events; he painted based on his own interpretation. The Renaissance had various impacts on art. For instance, in works like “The Last Supper,” Greek and Roman art forms and styles started to make a comeback. Artists also began incorporating more self-portraits and still life paintings due to the rise of humanism during this period, which focused on realistic depictions of faces and figures.
During the Northern Renaissance, artists began using oil paints, which provided more vibrant colors and had a longer lifespan (Art E. o. ). Prior to the Renaissance, painters and sculptors were regarded as skilled workers. However, after the Renaissance, they were given a newfound recognition as interior decorators. The art produced during this period serves as a lasting testament to one of the most groundbreaking and significant eras in Western history. It acted as a bridge between the stagnancy of the Middle Ages and the vibrancy of Classical civilization, while also driving artistic advancements for the future.
Art from the Renaissance period is highly influential and considered one of the most productive eras in art history. The work of these masters extended beyond painting and encompassed sculpture and architecture as well. Da Vinci and countless other scholars and artists embarked on an exploration of the natural world, resulting in new artistic experiments and philosophies that permanently transformed the culture of the entire Western world.