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The Morning Report — 4/24/23 | Main | THE MORNING RANT: Be Very Afraid of the Left’s “Climate Affirming Care”
April 24, 2023

Mid-Morning Art Thread [Kris]

da Vinci supper.jpg

The Last Supper
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci



The Last Supper

These two paintings depict the story of the last meal of Jesus Christ before His death with His Twelve Apostles. These works were painted almost exactly one-hundred years apart. Leonardo chose to depict the scene head-on. The table is stretched out before the viewer and the figures are all lined up along the long side opposite us. Jesus is dead center and the Twelve are divided into two groups of six, flanking Him. The two groups are sub-divided further into two sets of three. Leonardo composed thirteen people into a simple, evenly balanced arrangement. By deciding on this very symmetrical placement, Leonardo had to decide which person is the odd man out—who is left out of the groups and alone, in the center, separate from the others. This question was not hard, however. This is an important story in Christianity. Jesus is the central figure of the story so He goes in the middle—the “odd man out”. Easy. Many times in art, the center of the work is the place of importance, both symbolically and visually. An easy way, then, to highlight a significant figure or object is to place it in the absolute or just off-center.

Look also how Leonardo arranges other objects in the painting. He has used perspective to create the illusion that the flat surface upon which the scene is painted is actually a three-dimensional room that recedes into the distance. Jesus is place in the center of that room. The back windows line the wall behind the figures and the center window perfectly frames Jesus, forming a type of halo or aura around Him. The back wall itself also perfectly frames Him, forming a target-like image; Jesus is at the bull’s-eye, then the window, and finally the edges of the wall. Lines also draw our attention to Jesus. The hangings on the side walls and the grid pattern on the ceiling create invisible lines that meet at, and radiate from, Jesus’ head. Leonardo constructed this work like this so viewers can make these observations and understand the importance of Jesus and His importance to the story being told.

In Tintoretto’s painting, the story is the same, but the arrangement is very different. The thirteen figures are also seated along the long sides of the table, but twelve are on one side, and one is alone on the other. Instead of seeing the table from the front, stretched out parallel to the picture plane, Tintoretto has us seeing it from an angle. The table stretches away from us extending from front to back. If you count the figures at the table, Jesus is still in the center of the group, but because of perspective, the back six look smaller, making Jesus look off-center. Also one of their number is on the opposite side. He is grouped with them but is also separate. This is Judas Iscariot, the traitor. Unlike Leonardo, who groups Judas with the others and puts him in the subgroup containing Peter and John, Jesus’ two closest disciples, Tintoretto separates him, symbolically disconnecting Judas from the group and foreshadowing his betrayal and disgrace.

In this work, Tintoretto fills the room with other people besides the Thirteen. Even angels hover overhead. The work is busy and noisy. To make Jesus stand out among the crowd, Tintoretto stands Him up and employs the elements of color and light to highlight Him. In a painting full of dark browns, tans and blacks, Jesus is clothed in pink and blue. A bright spotlight shines off Him. Instead of a window suggesting a halo, one radiates from Jesus’s head and is brighter than those on the Disciples. Yet, Jesus is still placed in the center of the painting, but the steep angle of the table and the large empty space in front of it makes Him look off-center, to the left. So while the image is technically balanced, it seems off-balance, creating a visual conflict.

Leonardo and Tintoretto both created a work that tells the same story, but their arrangement of the stuff within the paintings communicate different ideas. Leonardo’s straight, balanced, symmetrical work conveys a clear, sober, somber, stable message. Jesus is the linchpin of the scene, the fulcrum and the center-point from which all Christianity radiates. It also is a visual demonstration of the rationality and order with which Renaissance society was obsessed. Tintoretto’s work is chaotic and dramatic. His work is loud. Instead of being in the moment, it anticipates the upcoming drama that the Last Supper symbolized, the brutal death of Jesus a few hours later. Also, just as Leonardo’s work is typical of the Renaissance, Tintoretto’s painting demonstrates the experimental rebelliousness of the next generation of art called Mannerism.

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posted by CBD at 09:38 AM

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