Artibus et Historiae no. 63 (XXXII)2011, ISSN 0391-9064
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JOSEPH POLZER - Reflections on Leonardo’s Last Supper
Leonardo’ Last Supper, in the refectory of the Dominican priory of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, an icon of High Renaissance Italian art, has been universally acclaimed for its realism and dramatic power from the very time of its creation. It remains so even now, although but little of its original condition is left. It has been painstakingly cleared of dirt and repainting during the mural’s most recent restoration completed about ten years past, enabling us to investigate Leonardo’s creative process and the mural’s meaning with greater assurance. What emerges are complex layers of meaning reaching beyond the mural’s obvious focus on the moment when Christ states to the Apostles that one of them will betray him.
Analysis of the painting confirms his quest for originality as he departs from the preferred emphasis in contemporary Last Suppers, especially Florentine, on Judas’ extreme evil. Instead, Leonardo underscores the spiritual remoteness of Christ. His treatment of the Apostles reaches from momentary dramatic narrative response to reference to different moments of Scripture narrative, thus introducing a flexible notion of time. And a closer reading of the composition yields calculated actions and gestures that cannot be accounted for according to how humans usually interact.
The very crowded spacing of the Apostles at one side of the table, including Judas who is usually placed in front, is excessive. Last but not least, here Leonardo also connects Christ and some Apostles to his last sermon in the Gospel of John, which stresses the notion of universal love.