The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci, c. 1495-1498






Leonardo Da Vinci was commissioned by the Duke of Milan to paint a small, almost insignificant mural for the Dominican friars that were under his patronage. The church where the mural would be painted was the Santa Maria delle Grazie. Leonardo began the mural in 1495, completing the work four years later. His "Last Supper" has been copied and reproduced so many times, it as if we have known it forever.

Only a scant fifty years after it was completed, Leonardo's painting was half-ruined, having been damaged by damp, and worse - ravaged by its often restoration by less than capable hands. And yet, Leonardo's depiction of the last meal that Jesus shared prior to his arrest, trial, and execution, remains the most recognizable Christian painting. In it, Leonardo has captured the momentary human drama of Christ's imminent betrayal as well as the timeless significance of the Eucharist (communion).

The incredible genius of Leonardo is most evident in this painting. The receding parallel lines meet behind the figure of Christ, in the distance like railway tracks on the horizon. At the point of convergence is the head of Christ, doubly in focus as positioned by the brush of Leonardo. Jan Gossaert has explained it as follows: "We seem to gaze at Christ as we are told we shall one day see him: face to face."

And again, the humanity of the Christ-story is evident in this work. Here is God among us, familiar with his followers, his disciple-friends. Even with such brewing turmoil, Jesus is eating with them, breaking bread, pouring wine. Here is the Christ we have come to know. And this moment, as captured by Leonardo, brings us, as viewers in a modern world, uniquely close to an utterly personal engagement between us as viewer and Jesus as Savior, and friend.


The Last Supper, sketch by Andy Warhol, c. 1986

Andy Warhol signing catalogs at his Last Supper exhibition

In the mid 1980's I had the opportunity to meet Andy Warhol. At the time, he had become quite preoccupied with Leonardo's mural, and had begun a lengthy series of experimental reinterpretations of "The Last Supper."

Not many months later, the American painter was commissioned to exhibit his "Last Supper" paintings in Milan, Italy, a few short blocks from the Santa Maria delle Grazie. Sadly, Warhol's "Last Supper" exhibit would be his last.

The Last Supper, silkscreen by Andy Warhol, c. 1986

It is our world that is inhospitable...

One hundred years before Warhol, the Scottish painter William Dyce, an older contemporary of William Holman Hunt, painted his "The Man of Sorrows." Dyce, whose father had been a lecturer in medicine, was a keen amateur scientist. His painting, "The Man of Sorrows," exhibited in 1860, alludes to contemporary studies in geology and fossils.

Dyce's Christ sits alone on a rocky highland. A friend of Dyce's, John Keble, wrote this poem, drawn from Matthew's Gospel, that was inscribed on the frame, and reprinted in the exhibition catalog.

The Man of Sorrows by William Dyce, c. 1860

As, when upon his drooping head
His Father's light was poured from heaven,
What time, unsheltered and unfed,
For in the wild his steps were driven,
High thoughts were with him in that hour,
Untold, unspeakable on earth.

Keble's poem is drawn from Matthew's words: "And when the tempter approached him, he said, "If indeed you are the Son of God, then command that these stones be made bread.
But he (Jesus) answered and said, "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by the very words that proceed from the mouth of God." Matthew's Gospel (4:3-4)
Dyce places Christ against a rocky waste that typifies the stony hardness of the world. Here, for many, his message of unbounded love goes unheard. "It is not," art historian, Jan Gossaert points out, "the world that is inhospitable to Christ's charity, it is our world."


Sign and Symbol

Seeing God

In the Eye of theMasters:

(PART 1)