I just love it! – a Convent named after a piece of clothing as lowly as a sock!
In fact this “sock” was a piece of cloth worn over the shoulder of the Gesuati Friars , a Dominican Order, which refers to the monks of St. Justus, ( not to be confused with the Jesuits) who made their home in the Convitta della Calza in 1529. These Monks were renowned for their pigments – According to Ross King in “The Pope’s Ceiling” no lesser artist than Michelangelo is known to have taken their colours with him to work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the Last Supper in the Cenacolo of this monastery must have benefited from their work.
Forgive the digression but their Calze name is akin to the cappuccio worn over the heads of the minor Franciscan sect of Capuchin Monks. They were part of their uniform so they could be easily recognised as part of a specific sect.
Interestingly the hoodies part of their outfit was lighter – similar to a Capuchin monkey – and this in turn led to the name of a much more familiar item, which is also dark brown with a paler top – none other than a cappuccino
But to return to my story of the Last Supper fresco by Francesco di Christoforo , ( 1482- 1525) who was known as Franciabigio, He was born in Florence, he worked and learnt his trade under Albertinelli until around 1505 when he befriended Andrea del Sarto and they set up shop together in Piazza del Grano.
In 1514 Franciabigio was commissioned by the Suore Gerosolitane ( Sisters of Jerusalem) to paint a Last Supper for their refectory and in common with nearly all the Last Supper paintings after Leonardo painted what is usually seen as the definitive version, Franciabigio was asked to paint the moment after Jesus has announced that shortly “One of you will betray me”! Thus you see all the Disciples rising or gesticulating in protest or disbelief, so there is plenty of moment in the painting.
Personally I rather like the tension felt in some earlier versions such as that in the Cenacolo of the Convent of Santa Apollonia in Via 27 Aprile, shown above, painted by Andrea del Castagno in 1445-50. in which the disciple seem static but the chaos behind the head of Judas suggests the enormous emotional struggle of what was about to happen.
The picture above shows the original Franciabigio painting before its restoration in 2000 – there is much anxiety, disbelief and confusion and perhaps because of the unstable fresco the disciples really seem to be on the move!
Restored in 2000, the painting is now undoubtedly clearer and all the features of the characters are more defined but sadly I fear that it has lost some of it’s life. It is also a pity that Judas’s cloak has turned from the poisonous yellow originally used by Renaissance artists to warn us that he might be dangerous, to the darker yellow ochre usually only worn by Saints, such as St Peter and Saint Elizabeth, to remind us that they had been spoken to directly by God. Peter himself has changed from a light ochre to a papal like outfit in purple red – maybe this makes him simpler to identify to contemporary audiences but I doubt whether it is “Com’era” – As it was!
I love this painting too – and I think it is still beautiful, but the first rule in fresco is to avoid the use of white – it is too strong a pigment and gets stronger over time – this restoration has poor St Andrew looking as if he is wearing the type of cotton-wool beard used by Santa Claus in the lesser department stores
The original seems to me to show the connection between Franciabigio and Andrea del Sarto, whose more famous version is shown above, wheras the restoration reminds me more of Ghirlandaio – and some experts suggest Mantegna.
This Last Supper is interesting because it is more ample than the average final repast with no less than three plates of sacrificial lamb, cherries, bread, wine and unusually – melons.
Melons are a strange choice as symbolically their sweet flavor and moisture usually means they linked to sensuality, gluttony, luxury and wealth – non of which are particularly representative of Christian virtues!
However they are also linked to creativity and maybe the artist, perhaps a little overshadowed by Andrea del Sarto, was hoping for recognition in that regard?
What I really love in this picture are the images of Florentine palazzi through the opened shutters behind the assembled saints – confirming Vasari’s comment in his Lives of the Artists that Franciabigio was very much inclined towards things of perspective.