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August 25, 2021

Mid-Morning Art Thread [Kris]

Ge Last Supper1.jpg

Last Supper
Nikolai Ge

For me, the story of Judas Iscariot is one of the great tragedies of history. Ge’s interpretation of a very popular subject in art is heartbreaking. This is a very different Last Supper. While the meal in the Upper Room is very popular in art, this specific moment is not--the moment Judas leaves to betray Jesus. Where other depictions focus on the theme of sacrifice, grace, service, faith, obedience unto death, etc., this work is all confusion, shock, sadness, and faithlessness. The mood is solemn and depressing.

The composition is off-center, and the palette and lighting are dark. The light source is just off-canvas to the lower right. It shines directly onto Peter and causes Judas to be in silhouette. This highlights the two betrayers, but also highlights their two fates. Both betrayed Jesus, but where Peter repented and received forgiveness, becoming one of the great leaders of the Church, Judas, who was also very remorseful, never repented, rejected forgiveness, and chose destruction and damnation. So, Peter is bathed in light but Judas is shrouded in shadow. Judas is also wrapping a cloak around him which blocks any light. He’s not shrouded in darkness by accident or chance, he is actively blocking the light.

I like Peter’s expression here. I see a mix of anger and confusion. He wanted John to ask Jesus who the betrayer was, but he may not have gotten his answer before Judas leaves. So, even though he never got his answer, he looks suspicious. John, at the far left of the group, copies but expands Peter’s reaction. He knows. His eyes are wide and he just stares. It seems like Judas was the last person John would suspect and he’s in shock. The rest of the Disciples have less intense reactions. They heard Jesus’ revelation of a betrayer, but they have no idea who it is. They’re clueless as to what is going on and just talk amongst themselves. They see Judas leave, but the Gospel says that they thought he was just going shopping. Oh well, back to the bombshell Jesus just dropped.

Jesus is just off-center left. He is the only one lounging and he is more dimly lit than John. I think this reflects his state-of-mind. He will die just a few hours from now, and He knows how terrible it will be, but that pales in the heartbreak of the knowledge of what one of His best friends is about to do to Him… and what will happen to Judas after. The knowledge weighs Him down and He looks very tired. His pose and the single, stark light source cut deep shadows into His face. His eyes appear sunken and His brows more knitted. The shadows on His beard create a deep frown. In art, Jesus is many times clothed in blue and white or red. The dim light has darkened those bright colors. His blue cloak is almost black, and the red tunic is a rusty, muddy brown.

Ge’s painting isn’t all doom and gloom, however. The bright spotlight also reveals hope. The bright white table cloth attracts the eye to several objects with deep significance. On the table are cups and plates, symbols of the Eucharist and of the sacrifice of Christ. Below them, on the floor is the basin of water and towels that Jesus used to wash the Disciples’ feet. They symbolize His service and His ability to wash us clean. They are tied together by the pure white tablecloth. They say that Jesus came to serve and be sacrificed but that that sacrifice will make us clean. I like that these elements are right behind Judas. He was included in their symbolism and significance, but he has literally turned his back on the grace they offer. This is the heartbreak I see in Jesus’ expression. Peter, on the other hand, is facing them. His hand rests on the tablecloth and a line physically and symbolically connects him to the elements. He will accept the grace the other betrayer is rejecting.

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posted by Open Blogger at 09:30 AM

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