For centuries, Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” imposes heated debates regarding its religious meaning, while critics and historians aim to depict the ceremonial representation of the painting as related to Jesus’ faith of being sacrificed in the name of Christianity (Celeste 203). This essay performs an analysis of da Vinci’s painting from a cultural formation perspective, aiming to translate the symbolic connotations and artistic representation captured in “The Last Supper” in relation to Christian culture.
Without knowing the representation of “The Last Supper”, people can see 13 men gathered at one long, rectangular table, where modest food and half-full glasses of red wine are seated next to white plates and bread. This context reflects the dining ceremonial. Something about the painting, however, indicates that it describes more than a simple dining ceremonial. The gravity of the men’s expressions suggests that a significant aspect is being discussed. In relation with this aspect, the painting suggests that from a cultural formation perspective, people discuss important matters while dinning. Another cultural formation aspect that da Vinci’s painting suggests is that people should drink wine when eating, as recommended by the Christian tradition. According to Christian tradition, red wine is Jesus Christ’s blood and Christians need to consume it while eating as a sign of remembering and appreciating His sacrifice in the name of humanity (Celeste 83).
The painting transmits tension, nervousness and excitement on the edge of erupting, which are indications of a heated subject, which seems to target the person situated in the middle of the table, as all the eyes and hands are directed towards Him. As in the middle of a tensioned subject, such as the preparation of a betrayal, the person who will be betrayed is isolated from the discussion and groups are formed. Jesus’ betrayal is precisely what Leonardo da Vinci describes in “The Last Supper”, by positioning Jesus in the middle of his apostles, yet, distanced from them, as they form groups not including him.
“The Last Supper” is a mural painting that da Vinci created in tempera for the Convent Santa Maria delle Crazie, from Milan (Kleiner 257). The selected warm coloristic nuances used to represent Jesus and his apostles (bleu, white, beige, orange, red), contrast the darkness of the wooden walls, vertically shaped, as a Gothic representation of verticality (Walker 230). Jesus being captured between two wooden vertical frames that sustain a window behind him suggests his unshaken moral integrity, which is a technique designed to please audience. Moreover, this technique transmits a message meant to shape cultures: remaining honest, upright and incorruptible to all lures and temptations, following the right path in life.
The positions of the apostles and their attitudes towards Jesus (mysterious, secretive, accusing even), the characters’ gestures, the colors used, the combination of Renaissance with Gothic and Realism, the dining setting, all create a cultural formation subject. Leonardo da Vinci describes a human ceremonial – dining – and a human action – treason, which are both entrenched and perpetuated in human culture.
Celeste. The Messianic Legacy in the Age of Aquarius: Jesus Redeemer of the World’s Soul. Bloomington: AuthorHouse. 2007. Print.
Kleiner, Fred. Garden’s Art through the Ages: A Concise Global History. Mason: Cengage Learning. 2005. Print.
Walker, Harlan. Food in the Arts: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, 1998. Devon: Prospect Books. 1999. Print.