A full day in Florence with 12 good men and 1 bad one sitting round a table – a Last Supper Tour with two lovely ladies.

A very exciting day for me in Florence on Friday as I have always wanted to do a full tour of as many different sites across the city on the same day to get more chance to compare and contrast. What could be nicer than One of  my friends from Australia asking me to organise such a thing as a birthday gift for one of her friends?

Better still, our day dawned bright and sunny and without the oppressive heat which so often ruins a visit to Florence in August – or the humidity which so often ends in a dark and stormy night!

We started with a private visit to see Perugino’s Last Supper painted 1493- 96 in Il Cenacolo di Fuligno on Via Faenza.


Pietro Vannucci from Umbria is better known as Pietro Perugino. His fresco of the Last Supper painted between 1480-1485 dominates the end wall of the monumental refectory of the former convent of a Convent School for Girls run by the Tertiary Franciscan Sisters of St. Onuphrius, called ‘di Fuligno’,  a school once attended by the daughter of Lorenzo di Medici – Il Magnifico.

The building had been sold to a private family but when they uncovered this frescoed wall in 1845 and found a small signature of Raphael with the date 1450 this  led them to excitedly attribute the entire work to Raphael – instead of his teacher Perugino- who probably allowed his pupil to have a go at helping him with  this work. The discovery of a  hidden work by this Master caused such an uproar that the Grand Duke was forced to buy back the halls of the complex for the benefit of the City, fortunately for us the Concierge Maria generously agreed to share this image with us on a day when the Unit would usually be closed – Many thanks again Maria for this.

One of the things that I love about Last Suppers is the fact that Nuns or Monks would have been eating in the Refectory with these oddly dressed people – and because of the size and perspective of these paintings – they really do seem to be there in the rooms.

Our second stop was quite close by on in the Cenacolo of the Convent of Santa Apollonia in Via 27 Aprile where there is a much stronger picture of the same group painted by Andrea del Castagno in 1445-50. According to Vasari a few years after this fresco was painted Castagno himself murdered one of his rivals, so my sensation is that he was personally as disturbed as Judas looks with this explosion of light and colour in the marble behind his head.

It just isn’t possible in a photograph this small to see how relatively brutal this painting is in comparison to Perugino – or indeed any of the others that we saw in the course of the day.

Helpfully all the disciples are named in this painting because apart from relative ages and beards, Peter clutching a knife and Thomas sometimes looking doubtful, there are precious few symbols in these paintings, which makes it very difficult to tell who is who.

After a coffee break we went to one of the famous museums of Florence – the Museo di San Marco where we visited Cell 35 to see Fra Angelico’s 1450 painting of The Last Supper.

We noticed five interesting points in this painting: –

  • The unlikely presence of Mary , Mother of Jesus in the picture – this is explained because there was a rule in the order that each cell decoration had to include Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
  • Jesus is feeding the bread of his body directly into the mouth of a rather feminine looking young John -painted in 1450 -and not re-touched. Interesting that this was painted before the importance of Mary Magdalene, even as a preacher, appears to have been deliberately written out of religious history.
  • Jesus already has a cross in his halo – prefiguring the Cross he will shortly die upon.
  • The view through the windows at the back of their supper room is exactly the same as one can see through the actual windows of this cell – so the Monk in this cell could also feel in the room with the group – in the same way as the eating Monks could when they ate together in the Cenacolo.
  •  And look out for Judas kneeling on the right hand side – he is already swarthy in the other paintings shown above and below – but in this one not only his hair and skin are very dark but also his Halo has gone black – he has become the baddie in the black hat!

We also visited some of the other cells in this museum and the spooky cell of Savonarola showing his celice – similar to the one shown above + flagellation whip and paintings of this fiery preacher burning on his funeral bonfire in exactly the same spot that he had originally burned what he defined as the “Vanities” in the Piazza della Signoria.

Hanging and Burning of Savonarola

From the Piazza San Marco we took a taxi to the Museum of Andrea del Sarto’s Last Supper at San Salvi – a little schlep from the City Centre but it is well worth the fare – in my opinion this one is the most extraordinary of them all – including what is left of Leonardo’s. Like Leonardo, del Sarto captures the group at the moment of outraged indignation that someone in the group would betray Jesus – everyone is protesting their innocence although Judas knows that he has been caught out. The servants looking over the balcony above are reputed to be Andrea del Sarto and his wife Monica – an indication of the importance in which artists held themselves by that time?

What amuses me about this painting is that from 1534 – 1800 it was in the Refectory of a closed order of Vallombrosan Nuns called the Ladies of Faenza. Without wanting to be too irreverent – this looks to me like a rather attractive group of gentlemen that might have taken the minds of the less devout ladies off the level of concentration demanded of women who have taken a vow of chastity – particularly bearing in mind that many ladies were dispatched to Convents when they couldn’t find themselves husbands!

We are fortunate to still have this painting to see because during the siege of Florence in 1529  the militia were ordered to destroy all the buildings on the outskirts of the City – Georgio Vasari in his usual flamboyant way describes the reprieve of this painting below.

It is no wonder that, because of its excellence, during the devastations of the siege of Florence in the year 1529, it was allowed to be left standing, while the soldiers and wrecking squads, by command of those in charge, destroyed all the suburbs around the city, and the monasteries, hospitals and all other buildings. These men, let me say, having destroyed the church and the campanile of San Salvi, and started to tear down part of the convent, had reached the refectory containing the Last Supper when the man who led them, seeing and perhaps having heard speak of this marvellous painting, abandoned what they had embarked on and would not let any more of the place be destroyed, putting this off till they could not do otherwise”.
(Giorgio Vasari, 1568).

 Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530) was also known as Andrea del Angolo – his nickname “del Sarto” came from the fact that his father was a tailor. It is also interesting to me that Judas’ clothing in this particular Last Supper reflects back to Giotto and other early Renaissance Artists who pointed out Judas as the dangerous traitor in the group through the colour yellow – still used to this day to mark a poison bottle or other risky substances.

The Museum of Andrea del Sarto’s Last Supper is also worth a visit to see the works of painting Nun Plautilla Nelli ,that have been recently restored by the Advancing Women Artists Foundation, and the fascinating painting of Grand Duke Cosimo I with his sinful family shown as Saints .

Next port of call was our lunch at Santo Bevitore – delicious as always – before going around the corner to the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine to see the 1582 Last Supper by Alessandro Allori in the Cenacolo next to the entrance to the famous Brancacci Chapel.

Anything strike you as odd about this fresco by Cosmino Court Portrait painter – Bronzino’s most famous student?

Perhaps it was genuine Homage to Andrea del Sarto – or maybe he thought none of his “audience” would be travelling outside the City Walls to San Salvi  – but these days I think the copywriters would have something to say!

Our final Church in the Centre was Santa Croce – where the oldest Last Supper that I know of in the City – that by Taddeo Gaddi completed in 1340 has been maintained- if not restored – following its semi destruction in the 1966 flood.

For our last Last Supper we went up to Fiesole to the fabulous hotel Belmond Villa San Michele where there is yet another Last Supper – the last in  line for our programme was painted in 1642 by Nicodemo Ferruci, an artist from Fiesole whose work is mainly found in Fiesole. most especially inside the Dome of the Cathedral of Fiesole.(1574–1650)

Clio Cicuto , the lovely public relations and guest manager of the Villa San Michele had kindly arranged to meet us and show us around the hotel and the Facade designed by Michelangelo – as well as showing us the Last Supper in what would have been the Cenacolo when the hotel was a Monastery. We enjoyed an aperitivi on the balcony overlooking the magnificent view over Florence from Fiesole before eating our supper in their outside dining area. Many thanks also to Clio for organising this for us.

I have to admit that pretty though the Last Suppers are – the stunning view of Florence from the hotel was the best sight of the day – Good food in good company with view like this under a perfect moon with perfect viewing weather – what a glorious experience!