Chronology of Last Suppers
Talking to a friend this week I realised that I was possibly becoming a little obsessed with the Last Supper, however he raised some interesting questions, which I hope means that he wasn’t totally bored to sobs by my enthusiasm and one of them was where Leonardo fitted in the history of Last Suppers? Our discussion mused on whether Leonardo raised a challenge that no-one wanted to take on after seeing his masterpiece in Milan – I thought not – but that he raised the bar a lot higher in terms of movement – so here goes – the chronology of my favourite Last Suppers (ie not the last word on the subject as I am still searching for more!!) What do you think?
One of the earliest in the style you will see below was done sometime between 1343- 1355 by Andrea Orcagna, unfortunately as this refectory was used for the storage of “trams” at the end of the 19th Century the fresco has been damaged irretrievably but it is still possible to make out two early Renaissance figures at a table looking dumbfounded and clutching themselves -saying “How could you say such a thing?”
Another started around1340 is in rather better condition- was completed by Taddeo Gaddi in Santa Croce. Originally attributed to Giotto, this painting has also been damaged – in this case by the 1966 flood. Tantalisingly it shows St John sound asleep, not just on the shoulder, but practically in the lap of Jesus – and what beautiful tapered fingers he has! – almost like someone who takes care of their hands with luxury oils.
1445-1450 – Andrea de Castagno – in some ways I think this looks the most modern of them all – Freud would have enjoyed interpreting the disturbance going on behind the heads of Judas and Jesus!
As they say, you learn something everyday and today I learned that these painted marbles have always had contemplative significance – the little red spots on the blue marble should raise profound thoughts about the pain Jesus felt on the cross as they represent the blood of Christ, and the cloud of white spots on the porphyry colour between the blue on the left panel and the brimstone above Judas represent the miracle of the mothers milk of the Virgin Mary.
This fresco is to be found in the church of Sant’Apollonia in Florence. It depicts Jesus and the Apostles during the Last Supper, each in a characteristic pose, which would have told latter day churchgoers immediately who was who in the group – not so easy for today’s audience – which. without the benefit of compulsory education on all religions. can on average, only pick out Jesus, Judas and Peter – and perhaps with prompting, Andrew, young John and the doubtful expression of Thomas.
1480 – Domenico Ghirlandaio – a recently renovated masterpiece to be found in the Cenacola of Ognissanti – one of the fascinating things about visiting this version is that as part of the renovation they also removed the sinopia of the original painting which allows us to see how much it has been adapted by renovators over the years!
1482- 1484 – also by Domenico Ghirlandaio in Chiesa di San Marco – note new symbol below – the naughty cat – and Peter is looking even more threatening with his knife – in this one Ghirlandaio has helpfully put everyone’s names on the back of the bench behind them!
They are left to right – James Minor, Philip, James Senior, Andrew (brother of Simon called Peter) Peter, Jesus, John (sleeping) Bartholomew, Thomas ( looking doubtful!), Matthew, Simon , Jude (aka Thaddeus to avoid confusion with Judas).
1493-1496 – the turn of Perugino whose work has been preserved in the Convent of Foligno in Florence Behind the supper he shows the next step when the Disciples sleep in the garden of Gethsemane, whilst Christ thinks about asking for a reprieve. Once again we have Judas on our side of the table with his money bag but he is the only one looking out at us – normally this would mean a self -portrait of the artist but I don’t see the likeness myself.
The likeness I do see prompted another debate with a friend – Perugino has also put the names in the panel below everyone’s feet – and shows James the brother of Jesus, in the left corner, as a virtual twin! My Catholic friends tell me this can’t be, – because Mary was thrice blessed, a virgin on conception of Jesus, a virgin whilst giving birth to Jenus and remaining a pure virgin throughout her married life – therefore James the brother of Jesus has to be Joseph’s son by a previous marriage and genetically would bear no physical resemblance to him at all – but okay it is probable that they would use the same tailor!
self portrait of Perugino
1495–1498- Leonardo da Vinci – now we have the one everyone talks about – and thus began the challenge to catch the disciples in movement – a snapshot taken at the moment of accusation and subsequent denial from all – including Judas – that nothing would tempt them to betray him!
Question asked in the Da Vinci Code was Is John really Mary? – It seems unlikely but this is the most female version in a painting – but interestingly the most female “John” in a drawing is in the Ghirlandaio sinopia at Ognissanti painted in 1480 which has a sketch of a young female wearing a low cut top.
1512 – 1514 – Franciabigio – at Cenacolo della Calsa, at the end of Via di Serragli – recently restored and re-opened to the public in the form of a Conference centre. Franciabigio shared a bottega with Andrea del Sarto and they clearly had some influence on one another. This group has more food , including three plates of sacrificial lamb, but less cutlery – nobody has a knife and St Peter isn’t found to Christ right hand side or even wearing his signature cloak of yellow ochre – he seems to have already moved to Papal purple!
1519-1527 – Andrea del Sarto – Take a a short bus-ride out of the city centre to visit the Cenacola di San Salvi. Andrea del Sarto must have seen the work of Leonardo da Vinci before embarking on his own masterwork on the subject – here everyone is saying “What ME? How could you possibly think such a thing!”
In this painting – as in Leonardo’s painting – Judas is not separated from the group by the table – and is not even shown in yellow to differentiate him from the rest of the group – he is actually sitting on Christ’s left looking just as incredulously injured as everyone else, as Jesus offers him bread – the symbol of his body – to show that he knows what he knows.
Another quirk of this painting is the artist increasing sense of self-worth – Andrea del Sarto and his wife Monica are portrayed on the balcony overlooking the whole scene.
Next in my count for today is Alessandro Allori, who painted the Cenecola in Santa Maria del Carmine in 1582 – so nearly 90 years after Leonardo they were putting Judas back as part of the group – as first suggested by Leonardo – and keeping the group surprised and lively – except perhaps Peter who looks totally perplexed!
Interesting opportunity to play spot the copy of characters taken directly from Andrea del Sarto’s painting of the subject.
So finally we move to oils and this rather curious example also by Alessandro Allori begun in 1584- lively it certainly is – and whoever knows who is who is doing very well amongst this jumble!
A late fresco entry was painted in 1642 by an artist born in Fiesole called Nicodemo Ferruci . It is to be found in the Cenacolo of the Five star Hotel Villa San Michele in Fiesole – it goes back to the traditional format of nearly everyone crowded at the back of the table except Judas who sits at the far left of Jesus on other side of the table accompanied only by his equally treaturous cat!
So my next challenge is to find one later than this – or is it the final response to the challenge of Leonardo?
I think Leonardo – as usual – takes the crown – but personally I still love the Ognissanti Ghirlandaio best!
Last but not least – albeit completely difference – there is this scene below from 1970 Robert Altman film MASH
The Last Supper sequence in the the Suicide is Painless scene – with groupings based on Leonardo’s Last Supper in Milan gathered around the despairing army dentist Dr Waldowski (John Schuck) – after he has taken what he believes is his suicide pill.
2013 – we have a late entry in the form of a photograph of Britains finest lovies by Alistair Morrison – this one has a Blog all to itself!