Updated: Apr 21
We all know that millions of people celebrate Easter every year but what we do not know is that Easter is the celebration of Lord Jesus’ resurrection and one of the most famous images that come to mind when one thinks of Easter is ‘The Last Supper’ by Leonardo da Vinci. This centuries-old masterpiece has been an iconic Renaissance masterpiece that has been praised, adored but also copied (a lot) for more than 500 years.
Despite being so old, this painting stills hangs on the walls of the Convent of Santa Maria Delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. Leonardo da Vinci started working on this one-of-a-kind masterpiece in 1495/96 and it was completed by 1948. This painting depicts a very famous scene from the Holy Thursday, where Lord Jesus and his Apostles share the final meal before he is crucified and before his resurrection. Jesus also reveals that one of his own would betray him and hand him to the executioners during this ‘last supper’.
This painting has been the most copied painting, not only in paint but also in terracotta, marble, and wax and this was because everyone wanted a version of it. Da Vinci finally created a masterpiece – ‘work of fame’ that he always dreamed of!
Here are 10 interesting facts about this timeless masterpiece:
1. The survival of the painting is considered a miracle
This was made as a mural in the 1st century and is very much celebrated today as well. This is the art world’s most endangered species and was once almost given up for lost. The painting due to the humidity and flaking was almost ruined in the 16th century itself, then King Louis attempted to cut the mural off the wall and take it with him in 1499, the French army used it as a reflector shield of sorts in 1796 and these are not the dramatic incidents! On August 15’ 1943, Allied forces bombed the place, everything turned into debris bit magically this painting survived due to toa protective structure that was build beforehand! And this is the miracle of ‘The Last Supper’ surviving!
2. The Last Supper showcases the culmination of the career of one of the world’s greatest artist of all times
After years of hard work and drawbacks, Da Vinci finally found success and fame through this painting. This painting gave him all the glory he wanted in all of his lifetimes. So, Leonardo, I discovered, is not just a universal genius whom we can admire as one of the finest examples humanity has ever produced". Despite having no experience on working on such a huge image, Da Vinci pulled this painting off very efficiently as well as effectively.
3. The layout and the perspective
Da Vinci balanced the perspective construction of the painting so that its vanishing point is exactly behind Christ’s right temple. This, in turn, points to the physical location of the center of his brain!
He also marked the table ends, floor lines, and orthogonal edges of the six ceiling coffers by pulling a string in radical directions. Since Leonardo Da Vinci was very well known for the portrayal of symmetry, the layout of this painting is horizontal. The painting is also symmetrical with all the figures on either side of Jesus!
4. A failed experiment
Traditional renaissance painters usually used wet plaster walls to paint on, Da Vinci experimented with a sealed plaster wall in the Santa Maria Delle Grazie monastery in Milan, Italy. The Last Supper is this experiment that proved to be unsuccessful because the paint started flaking away soon after this was made. The added humidity also led to a faster flaking process!
5. The use of hammer and nail
Leonardo Da Vinci hammered a nail in a wall, tied a string around it and used it as a guide to making marks that helped him in creating angles in his painting. Since adding a perspective lifts the whole painting and makes it look more dramatic and because Da Vinci was the king of symmetry, this technique was used by him to mark exact angles on all the four corners of the painting.
6. The (un)real mural – The Last Supper
The mural that we see today is not 100% of Leonardo Da Vinci’s work. Since the painting started flaking soon after it was made, it would have been completely destroyed by now. But at the end of the 20th century, art restorer Panin Brambilla Barcilon and his art crew took help and relied heavily on microscopic imagery, core samples, sonar and infrared reflectosocpy for removal of the added layers of paint on the painting to restore the piece and bring it as close to its original form as possible. According to critics, only a fraction of work done originally done by Leonardo Da Vinci actually exists today!
7. The meaning of food in ‘The Last Supper’
The spilled salt before Judas is said to be a reflection of his betrayal of lord Jesus and is since considered a sign of bad luck. It is now associated with betrayal and is seen as a sign of the same. The fish on the table has also been a question of debate for a very long time – the fish could either be an eel or a herring. If It is an eel, it represents indoctrination and hence its faith in Lord Jesus. But on the other hand, if it’s a herring, it will symbolize an atheist; a non-believer who denies religion.
8. The Last Supper inspired some pretty wild theories
According to ‘The Templar Revelation’, Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince state the idea of the man besides Jesus being not John but Mary Magdalene and also that this painting is made for covering up lord Jesus’ true identity. Musicians on the other hand state that there is a hidden message in the painting which is actually an accompanying soundtrack! Another Vatican researcher also translated the ‘mathematical and astrological’ signs as a message from Da Vinci about the ned of the world.
This researcher claims that The Last Supper predicts an apocalyptic flood that will sweep over all the Earth from March 21 to November 1’ 4006.
9. Book it well in advance to see it in person
Since the painting is not in any museum but in a convent, which was not built for large crowds, only 20-25 people can go into the building to see the painting. The visiting block for each person is 15 minutes and hence it is recommended that visitors book their tickets two months in advance. Since this one of Italy’s most famous and must-see sites, people from all over the world to catch a glimpse of this masterpiece. Keep one thing when you come to see this painting – dress conservatively else you will be turned away from the convent and your hard work will go down the drain.
10. Mimicked in popular and contemporary culture
Fine and pop art has paid significant tribute to The Last Supper but with its own limitations and parodies! Starting from a 16th-century oil painting mimic to a completely new interpretation by Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Susan Dorothea White, and Vik Munz who recreated this painting out of chocolate syrup.
Other recreations have also been found in Mel Brooks comedy ‘History of the World - Part 1’and Luis Buñuel's Viridiana, both of which were declared ‘blasphemous’ by the ‘Vatican’.
The Last Supper was and still is one of the most expensive, valued, and passionate works that have ever existed. Today we might know Da Vinci for the breadth of his artwork, his inventions, and his writing, this was the one masterpiece that brought him all his name, fame, and glory. And it was the only painting that actually cemented his reputation during ‘that’ time!