Leonardo’s The Last Supper depicts the sequence of events before Jesus’s betrayal and crucifixion. Rather than merely a snapshot in time, The Last Supper seems to be a continuous sequence of events, and a foreshadow of events to come. Two interpretations of the subject of the painting come to mind: the betrayal announcement and the first communion. Observing the impulsive Simon Peter’s interactions with Judas and John, Jesus and Thomas, it is clear that The Last Supper represents a conjoint presence of both the betrayal announcement and the institution of the Eucharist.
The main theme behind The Last Supper is Jesus’s death. Jesus came to earth to be crucified as the sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Man cannot become righteous by his own works and are thus condemned to hell. But Jesus comes as a sacrifice to pay for those sins and thus all who trust in him and give their lives to God will be forgiven of their sins. This is what the Eucharist represents. The bread is Jesus’s body broken for man, and it symbolizes Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. From a secular viewpoint, the Eucharist means nothing, so the main theme is obviously Jesus’s announcement of the betrayal. Jesus already knows that Judas will betray him and accepts it because the betrayal is but one part of God’s plan. The reactions of the apostles as seen in the painting seem to differ, as some react to the betrayal while others appear to be receiving communion.
Peter’s placement on the left side of the painting and his placement between John and Judas reflects his character. The painting is divided with six apostles on either side of Jesus. The ones on the right are beside a lighted wall, whereas the ones on the left sink into the shadows. Peter is on the darke…
…himself claims: “Your tongue will be paralyzed… before you predict with words what the painter shows in a moment” (Steinberg, p. 53). Yet The Last Supper has become a masterpiece that has sparked many debates. Does it depict the first Holy Communion, or the prediction of the betrayal? Many have argued either way, and there are valid arguments for both. By examining the interactions of Peter with John, Judas, Jesus and Thomas, we see that indeed both events are represented. Instead of choosing to capture a single moment, Da Vinci’s masterpiece covers past, present and future events and both the institution of the Eucharist and the betrayal announcement. The Last Supper is truly complete work of art in every way.
Holy Bible. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers Inc., 1996.
Steinberg, Leo. Leonardo’s Incessant Last Supper. New York: Zone Books, 2001.