The Last Supper in Art and History -- By: Gene Fackler

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 13:1 (Winter 2000)
Article: The Last Supper in Art and History
Author: Gene Fackler


The Last Supper in Art and History

Gene Fackler

While Da Vinci’s original Last Supper is being restored today, it is in such disrepair that the bag of money is hard to see and the salt spilled on the table cannot be seen at all. However, we know about the spilled salt because Da Vinci had one of his best pupils, Marco di Omaggiono, copy the Last Supper on a smaller scale. A common practice among the great painters, his pupil’s work clarified the painting’s details. Omaggiono did the outline and Da Vinci applied the color. It is on this copy that we see the spilled salt.

The Bible offers only minimal information as to the precise situation of the Last Supper. Artists throughout history have used these clues and “artistic license” as they present their own version of the scene. ABR staff artist Gene Fackler examines some of the famous artistic depictions of this event, comparing them with Scripture.

LEONARDO DA VINCI (1495–98), a giant in the roster of famous master painters, painted The Last Supper nine years before Martin Luther nailed up his 95 theses, and it took seven years to paint. The Last Supper is not a framed painting that hangs on a wall. Without exaggeration, it is the wall itself!

While a large modern dining room table might be 2.5 m (8 ft) long, Da Vinci’s Last Supper table measures over 8.5 m (28 ft) long. The picture is also over 4.5 m (15 ft) high, with all the disciples over 2.4 m (8 ft) tall. .. truly larger than life!

In reality, the Last Supper did not take place around a 80 cm (32 in) -tall table. Instead of sitting on chairs, the disciples reclined on their left side around three sides of a table. Among the Romans, this type of dining was known as a triclinium (“three recliner,” Jn 13:23; Lk 22:14).

In Da Vinci’s painting it is difficult to determine whether the disciples are sitting or standing. Instead of “reclining,” as Scripture notes, eight figures are definitely standing, two seem to be seated, and three could be doing either.

John 13:23–25 notes that “John reclined upon Jesus’ breast.” Apparently on Jesus’ right, John reclined on his left side and when he leaned back his head would have leaned on Jesus’ chest. At the same time, Judas is also mentioned near, even next to, Jesus. When asked by Peter who would betray Him, Jesus answered,

“That is the one for whom I shall dip the mor...

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