The Last Supper (Italian: Il Cenacolo) is a late 15th-century mural painting by Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci housed by the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. It measures 460 cm × 880 cm (180 in × 350 in) and covers an end wall of the dining hall at the monastery. It is one of the western world’s most recognizable paintings. The work is presumed to have been started around 1495–96 and was commissioned as part of a plan of renovations to the church and its convent buildings by Leonardo’s patron Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. The painting represents the scene of the Last Supper of Jesus with his apostles, as it is told in the Gospel of John, 13:21. 13:21. Leonardo has depicted the consternation that occurred among the Twelve Apostles when Jesus announced that one of them would betray him. Due to the methods used, a variety of environmental factors, and intentional damage, very little of the original painting remains today despite numerous restoration attempts, the last being completed in 1999. The painting was commissioned by Sforza to be the centrepiece of the mausoleum. The lunettes above the main painting, formed by the triple arched ceiling of the refectory, are painted with Sforza coats-of-arms. The opposite wall of the refectory is covered by the Crucifixion fresco by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano, to which Leonardo added figures of the Sforza family in tempera. (These figures have deteriorated in much the same way as has The Last Supper.)
All twelve apostles have different reactions to the news, with various degrees of anger and shock. The apostles were identified by their names using a manuscript (The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci p. 232) found in the 19th century. (Before this, only Judas, Peter, John and Jesus were positively identified.) From left to right, according to the apostles’ heads:
- Bartholomew, James, son of Alphaeus, and Andrew form a group of three; all are surprised.
- Judas Iscariot, Peter, and John form another group of three.
Judas is wearing red, blue, and green and is in shadow, looking rather withdrawn and taken aback by the sudden revelation of his plan. He is clutching a small bag, perhaps signifying the silver given to him as payment to betray Jesus, or perhaps a reference to his role within the 12 disciples as treasurer. He is also tipping over the salt cellar. This may be related to the near-Eastern expression to “betray the salt” meaning to betray one’s Master. He is the only person to have his elbow on the table and his head is also horizontally the lowest of anyone in the painting. Peter looks angry and is holding a knife pointed away from Christ, perhaps foreshadowing his violent reaction in Gethsemane during Jesus’ arrest. He is leaning towards John and touching him on the shoulder, perhaps because in John’s Gospel he signals the “beloved disciple” to ask Jesus who is to betray him. The youngest apostle, John, appears to swoon and lean towards Peter.
- Apostle Thomas, James the Greater, and Philip are the next group of three.
Thomas is clearly upset; the raised index finger foreshadows his incredulity of the Resurrection. James the Greater looks stunned, with his arms in the air. Meanwhile, Philip appears to be requesting some explanation.
- Matthew, Jude Thaddeus, and Simon the Zealot are the final group of three.
Both Jude Thaddeus and Matthew are turned toward Simon, perhaps to find out if he has an answer to their initial questions.
In common with other depictions of the Last Supper from this period, Leonardo seats the diners on one side of the table, so that none of them has his back to the viewer. Most previous depictions excluded Judas by placing him alone on the opposite side of the table from the other eleven disciples and Jesus or placing halos around all the disciples except Judas. The angles and lighting draw attention to Jesus, whose turned right cheek is located at the vanishing point for all perspective lines; his hands are located at the golden ratio of half the height of the composition.
Two early copies of The Last Supper are known to exist, presumed to be work by Leonardo’s assistants. The copies are almost the size of the original and have survived with a wealth of original detail still intact. One, by Giampietrino, is in the collection of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and the other, by Cesare da Sesto, is installed at the Church of St. Ambrogio in Ponte Capriasca, Switzerland. A third copy (oil on canvas) is painted by Andrea Solari (c. 1520) and is on display in the Leonardo da Vinci Museum of the Tongerlo Abbey, Belgium.