Leonardo da Vinci: The Last Supper

The Renaissance, which took place during 14th century through the 16th century, was a cultural movement that began in Florence, Italy and then expanded throughout Europe. The term Renaissance means“re-birth.” Artists during this time were trying to bring back or revive the past classical ideas of Greece and Rome. The Renaissance artists were influenced by the past. This does not necessarily mean that they were copying the past techniques and styles; they were expanding and innovating the arts. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) as well as Bramante, Michelangelo, Raphael, Giorgione, and Titan were all well known artists of the High Renaissance.
Leonardo da Vinci was born in the town of Vinci in the Tuscan countryside. He is known for many things such as his science, paintings, sculptures, music, architecture, and engineering. He attended the fraternity of St. Luke in Florence and was also under the tutelage of Andrea del Verrocchino, who was also a well known artist of the Renaissance. Later on in his life he worked for Ludovico Sforza (Duke of Milan) as a military engineer.(1) Leonardo did many projects for Sforza from painting, sculpting, and designing court festivals to “technical adviser in the fields of architecture, fortifications, and military matters, and served as a hydraulic and mechanical engineer.”(2) While in Milan, he completed six works. One of them was The Last Supper. Leonardo’s time in Milan was very critical for the development of his career and for the creation of his theory of art and the concept of “science of painting.”(3) This concept derived from Leonardo’s belief that “sight is the human being’s most unerring sense organ, yielding immediate, accurate, and reliable data of experience” therefore concluding that seeing equals perceiving.(4) Leonardo was able to achieve wonderful paintings by observing things and portraying them just as he observed them but he also applied Alberti and Piero della Francesca mathematical perspective, which consisted on drawing symmetrical bodies arranged in geometrical forms like a triangle.
After being in Milan for so long, Leonardo decided to leave and go to different places around Italy. While traveling through Italy, Leonardo spent much of his time being an engineer and architect. Leonardo later decided to be Cesare Borgia’s military architect and engineer. During his years under Borgia’s command, Leonardo spent much time drawing topographical maps and panoramic views allowing him to observe and captivate the minute details of his observations, which aided him in his paintings. Leonardo eventually moved to Rome but he was only there for a short time since he decided to be part of the service of King Francis I of France. Leonardo still did some paintings while in France but he concentrated more on editing his scientific studies.(5) Leonardo died in France and was buried at the church of Saint-Florentin in the year of 1519.
The Last Supper is one of the most famous paintings in the world. In this piece of art, one can observe Leonardo’s symmetrical and mathematical placement of the figures.(6) Leonardo depicted Jesus as the central focal point and then the twelve apostles are equally divided and placed to Jesus’ left and right side. When viewing the picture as a whole one can see the proportion of the painting and how the placement of the figures and the details create a triangle or pyramid like figure that draws the attention of the eye to Jesus, which was a characteristic style of painting during the High Renaissance. Leonardo also makes use of the chiaroscuro technique, which consists of using light and shadows to give figures a three dimensional look as well as an illusion of depth and space around the main figures. Leonardo decided to expose a specific point in time, this being just after Jesus had spoken the words “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me” found in Matthew 26:21. This specific instance shows the reaction and personality of each and every one of the apostles. Leonardo did a splendid job conveying the different emotions of despair, disbelief, denial, and fear through the gestures and movements of the limb.(7) Leonardo tried hard to depict “the intention of man’s soul.”(8) It is hard not to see this art work from a Christian perspective because it gives us a visual insight of how the emotions and reactions could have been at the time of Jesus’ announcement for his crucifixion and fulfillment of prophesy.