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Art History Criticism





Last Supper by Leonard da Vinci:

It is a work of painting by Leonard Da Vinci. Being 15th century work, Last Supper is regarded as one of the most famous paintings in the world. According to historical iconographers, the work is said to have commenced between 1494 and 1945. Leonard da Vinci’s patrons Duke of Milan and Ludovico commissioned it as one of the plans of renovating the church buildings. The work portrays the scene of Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples as how the story is told in the Gospel of John 13:21 (Wansink, B., & Wansink, 2010).

In his work, Leonard was trying to depict the consternation that happened among the disciples when Jesus asserted that one of them would betray him. Owing to the environmental factors, methods uses and intentional damage, the original painting has been defaced and destroyed. Although, various attempts have been made to restore the painting, its originality has been destroyed (Steinberg, 2013).

According to the iconographers, the Last Supper has been said to be portraying expressive reactions by the apostles after Jesus’ assertion that one of them would betray him,. Taking a close look at the painting, one will note that everyone among the disciples have varying reactions to the news with others showing degrees of shock and anger (Wansink, B., & Wansink, 2010). As a common practice of this period, Leonardo depicts the diners seating on one side of the table. However, the prior depictions were excluding Judas where he was being placed alone on the other of table. Leonardo had Judas leaning back into shadow. This is a suggestive prediction by Jesus that the betrayer would have to take bread. Disgusted by the intense conversation of Peter and John, Judas reach out for a different bread without noticing that Jesus too is reaching for it (a reference can be found in Mathew 26:23).

The Last Supper painting contains various references of number 3. For clarification, number 3 is an important figure in Christianity belief since it portrays the Holy Trinity. The disciples are seated in grouping of three. In addition, behind Jesus there are three windows also the shape of Him resemble a triangle. It is speculated that they might have been other references, which have lost with deterioration of the painting. To date, only two main copies of Last Supper exist. These copies are speculated to have been worked by the assistants of Leonardo. The copies are of same size as the original painting. For long time, these copies have survived destruction and they have all the details of the original painting. For instance, one of the precise copy by Giampietrino is kept at “Royal Academy of Arts in London. The other one wby Cesare da Sesto contains various alterations. It is installed in the St. Ambrogio Church, Ponte Capriasca, Switzerland (Steinberg, 2013).

Working on this painting, Leonardo was seeking a great luminosity and detail, of which could be achieved by using the then traditional fresco. Leonardo avoided using wet plaster, instead painted the Last Supper on dry wall such that it was anyway reflecting true fresco. Since it is impossible for the fresco to be modified as work of art, Leonardo sealed the stone wall with the double layer. Using the techniques of panel painting, he white lead undercoat, this enhanced the brightness of the tempera and oil. This method had been discovered earlier by Cennino Cennin during 14th century. However, according to iconographers, Cennino was recommending the usage of secco to enhance a final touch. Leonardo applied these techniques since he wanted to work on the painting slowly. This gave him adequate time in developing the gradual chiaroscuro or shading (Heydenreich, 2012).

However, the painting did not adhere properly to the wall according to how Leonardo intention. This is because the painting was done on thin exterior wall, and thus, humidity as intense. Few decades after the completion of the painting, it began to deface and deteriorate. In the beginning of 1517 the painting had began to flake. Sixty years after it was completed, in 1556, the biography of Leonardo, Giorgio Vasari reported the painting to have ruined to an extend that all the figures could not be recognized. In the second half of sixteen century, the painting had completely ruined. By 1768, to protect the painting, a curtain was hung over it. However, the curtain trapped moisture and when it was pulled back, the painting was scratched. In 1726, Michelangelo Bell, who tried to fill in the missing sections using oil paint, made restoration attempts. However, after a short period the repair deteriorated and in 1770, unknown artist, Giuseppe Mazza made another attempt of restoring it. Mezza involved in stripping off work of Bellotti and repainted the painting. He had already redone everything but three faces when he was stopped following public outrage (Wansink, B., & Wansink, 2010).

During the French revolution in 1796, troops, who were opposing clerics, turned the refectory as armory. They destroyed the painting where they scratched out disciples eyes. The refectory was later on used as a prison and it is hardly known whether the prisoners may have further damaged the painting. Stefano Barezzi, who was a experienced expert in removing frescoes, was given the task of removing the painting to safe location. However, he severely destroyed many section of the painting before he realized that the painting was not fresco. Using glue, Barezzi tried to reattach the damaged sections. From 1900 to 1907, Luigi Cavenaghi had through with studying the painting structure and started cleaning it. Oreste Silvestry in 1925 made further cleaning and tried to stabilize some of its parts. In 1943, during the World War II, the refectory was damaged by the allied bombing. The painting was protected with sandbagging, hence it was not struck by splinters of the bomb. However, the bomb vibrations damaged it (Wansink, B., & Wansink, 2010).

From 1952 and 1951, Mauro Pelliccioli undertook to restore the painting. In the late 1970s, the appearance of the painting had deteriorated. From 1979 to 1999, Pinin Brambilla undertook a major of painting restoration. The aim of the project was to enhance stabilization of the painting and repair damages that had had been caused by pollution and dirt. Because it was practically impossible to relocate the painting to a secure place, Brambilla tried to seal the refectory by bricking the windows. A study was carried out with an aim of determining the original form of painting. The researchers used microscopic and reflectoscopy core-sample in their study. However, some of the sections of the painting could not be restored and they were repainted with watercolor (Hall, 2012).

It took 21 years to complete the restoration process and by 1999, the painting was fully restored. To view the painting, it is requirement of the visitors to book ahead and they are only allowed 15 minutes of stay. After being unveiled, the painting attracted widespread controversy with many critics arguing that its tones, color and facial shapes had been altered. For instance, James Beck, who is the professor of visual art at the Columbia University, criticized the restoration of the painting. Michael Daley, who is the ArtWatch International director, has been complaining that the version of the painting is severely altered. For instance, he has been highly critical of right arm of Christ, which he argues has been disguised (Steinberg, 2013).

Overall, the Last Supper painting has elicited much debates and controversies around the world. It has been frequently reproduced, referenced and parodied in Western world. For instance, one of the painting copies is conserved in Antwerp, Belgium. It contains various details than the original. Salvador Dali, in 1955, worked on “The Sacrament of the Last Supper” paint where Jesus is depicted as clean-shaven and blonde with the disciples gathering around the table with their heads bowed. This painting is credited as one of most significant art works in the “National Gallery of Art”. In 1987, Andy Warhol was given the task of producing various series of paintings basing on “The Last Supper”. Marisol Escobar, a sculptor, involved in rendering “The Last Supper” as three-dimensional, life-size, sculptural assemblage by using drawn and painted wood, brownstone, plywood and plaster. This work is preserved in “Metropolitan Museum of Art” in New York (Steinberg, 2013).

Last Supper by Tintoretto:

Last Supper Painting by Tintoretto:

Contrary to Leonard da Vinci, Tintoretto is said to have portrayed the “Last Supper Painting” many times during his career. For instance, some of his earlier paintings including “Chiesa di San Felice” and the “Chiesa di San Marcuola” portrays the last supper scene in its frontal perspective where the painting figures seem seating at the table. this is followed by the convention that is evidently in many of the Last Supper paintings. The later 1480s mural painting by Leonardo da Vinci is perhaps the best example. However, his final paintings between 1592 and 1994 departed from his drastic earlier formula. Secondary characters including women who are carrying dishes with the servants clearing dishes from the table begun now preoccupied most of his painting scenes (Levey, 2015).

Further, the apostles’ table seems receding deep into space. In addition, Tintoretto involves usage of light, which emanates from both the ceiling and the aureole of Jesus. The Last Supper as painted by Tintoretto is arguably radically and asymmetrical. The painting is dynamistic and emphasizes mostly quotidian. In other word, its setting is the same as the Venetian inn where it is pointing to the Baroque (Levey, 2015).


Hall, M. B. (2012). Color and meaning: practice and theory in Renaissance painting (pp. 94-95). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Heydenreich, L. H. (2012). Leonardo-‘The Last Supper’. Lane, Allen.

Levey, M. (2015). Tintoretto and the Theme of Miraculous Intervention. Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, 113(5109), 707-725.

Plesters, J., & Lazzarini, L. (2012). Preliminary observations on the technique and materials of Tintoretto. Studies in Conservation, 17(sup1), 153-180.

Steinberg, L. (2013). Leonardo’s Incessant Last Supper. Zone Books, New York, 00.

Wansink, B., & Wansink, C. S. (2010). The largest Last Supper: depictions of food portions and plate size increased over the millennium. International journal of obesity, 34(5), 943-944.


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