"The Last Supper" by Leonardo Da Vinci
The Last Supper
The Renaissance was a time period where the values within the society were expressed through evolving art. Art became way to express a point of view on religion, politics and society because you could imply subtle symbols conveying anyone’s thoughts and opinions. A new religious theme of art arose from these ideas that portrayed concepts of humanism, depicting God or a holy figure as a human or at the same level as one, which had never been done before. Many artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci became famous in The Renaissance for creating paintings of this theme. Leonardo was questionable the most skilled artist of the Renaissance (Britannica 1, Cappadona 1). He was born in Anchiano, a village near Vinci, Italy in 1452 (Roach 1). However, his career started at the age of 15 in Florence, where he became the apprentice of an artist named Andrea De Verrocchio. Through assisting Verrocchio, Leonardo learned to paint, draw and sculpt. At the age of twenty, Leonardo left Verrocchio to begin his own career, as an artist (Roach 2). One of Leonardo’s most famous pieces, The Last Supper, is among one of the best paintings in the world (Britannica 1). Duke Ludovico Sforza of Milan commissioned The Last Supper to illustrate Christ telling his apostles, “One of you shall betray me,” at his last meal, and to be put it in the dining hall of the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent in Milan, Italy (Britannica 1).Taking three years, from 1495 to 1497, for Leonardo to complete; The Last Supper is the most complex painting of the Renaissance because it maintains complete humanism by using symbols that can be interpreted in so many different ways (Ladwein 10).
Symbolism played a big role in Leonardo’s art, and especially in The Last Supper. Symbols were a way to indirectly express personal perspective and beliefs. The Last Supper uses many symbols in order to maintain humanism. Leonardo uses the facial expressions of the characters to symbolize who Christ is, rather than raising him above the others (MacGregor 15). All the apostles’ facial expressions represent distress or confusion because they are human and unable to accept that someone would betray Christ. However, Christ’s facial expression is calm and pure because he is the son of God and is forgiving of sin (Britannica 2, Lair 2). Symbolism is also used to slyly portray the Christian belief of Holy Trinity. All the apostles are depicted in groups of three, there are windows behind Christ and Christ resembles the shape of a triangle, all these symbols indirectly support God’s power but still keep the equality between man and god (Lair 3). Obviously, symbolism is continuously used in The Last Supper to portray an image of humanism where Christ is shown in regular human form, but symbols that when understood make it apparent that Christ is holy.
Leonardo also used lighting and shading very creatively in The Last Supper, this really contributed to making the painting complex. Usually shade and lighting was used for just detail of clothing and positioning which Leonardo did, however Leonardo also used several different levels of shading to express the soul and personality of the characters (Olga 7). The most distinctive uses of lighting and shade are on Judas and Christ. Since, Judas is the apostle who betrays Christ a shadow is depicted on him signifying that he is an impure contaminated soul. Christ on the other hand, has this light coming in from the windows behind him signifying his purity and holiness (Olga 7). Using light and shade to represent a character’s personality also results in the concept of never truly presenting Christ as a holy figure. This idea plays a role in supporting humanism by indirectly showing Christ’s holiness.
I believe The Last Supper is one of the most interesting pieces of art ever created. It presents many different aspects of the Renaissance Society. It also portrays Leonardo’s personal perspective on a lot of religious view points. The Last Supper can be interpreted in so many different ways which contributes to why it is so complicated. It shows history about the concepts of art, such as the beginning of Humanism, when the society started to understand God created us to view his perfection, and humans are part of that, from this artistic detail advanced drastically, leading to the research of the body(Cassirer 1). The Last Supper presents so much more then just a painting and it is amazing how much you can learn about the Renaissance from really evaluating what the picture shows.
In all, it is obvious that The Last Supper is the most complex painting from the Renaissance. It presents so many perspectives and points of view, that Leonardo’s intended meaning remains unknown (Cappadona 8). However, Leonardo did depict a new art style. The new idea of presenting holy figures as humans effected the artistic style with the use of symbols to suggest personal perspective within the art. Art also had an impact on the society, with humanism people started to realize God gave everyone an equal chance, and social statuses began to deteriorate because peasants became determined to excel and succeed as wealthy people (Cassirer 2). History is full of connections, Art was influenced by the society of the Italian Renaissance but art also influenced religious and political outlooks in the society, such as the idea of equal opportunity between all men (Cassirer 2).
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