Why is The Last Supper so famous?

Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper is one of the most famous paintings in the world. Have you ever wondered why it’s so famous?

The artwork was painted in 1494-1498 and depicts the last dinner of Jesus and his disciples. Unlike the other iconic artwork of Da Vinci, The Mona Lisa, this painting is huge: 4.60 meters high and 8.80 meters wide. It is located in the Dominican Monastery Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan and was commissioned by Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. 

This scene has been depicted many times throughout art history by different artists. But Da Vinci’s version is supposedly the one that captures the high tension the best and in this respect became a huge success. The painting represents the extremely dramatic and crucial moment when Jesus shares with the apostles the fact that he knows one of them will betray him. The apostles’ facial expressions reveal the emotions of shock, horror, and rage and are full of life.

Another detail that makes this version of the Last Supper special and different than the other depictions made before and after Da Vinci’s is that there is no halo over Christ’s head. Many historians think the artist believed that nature itself is God. This might explain why he preferred not to put a halo over Jesus and to portray the religious characters in the painting as common people.

As you might already know, the use of perspective is one of the most important aspects of Renaissance art. The one-point perspective in this painting steers the viewers’ eye to the center of the composition, the face of Christ, which has a rather ambiguous facial expression in contrast to the apostles. This ambiguity has confused art historians for centuries. 

Da Vinci preferred not to use fresco, that was the traditional method of the time which required painting on freshly applied wet plaster. Instead, he chose to make the artwork with tempera and oil on a dry plaster preparation. This method kept the paint from sticking well on the wall and ever since, it has been a struggle to keep the painting from flaking off the wall. 

The painting is so fragile that today only 25 people are allowed to enter the room every 15 minutes to make sure that the room temperature is maintained stable. The artwork has been through several restoration projects in order to preserve it and prevent decay. In fact, possibly most of the painting we see today is not the original since it has been restored many times throughout history.

Giampietro’s full-scale copy on canvas which was the main resource used during the latest restoration can be seen at The Royal Academy of Arts in London. So if you happen to pass by London, don’t forget to see this wonderful copy which will allow you to appreciate the details of the painting since it is in much better condition than the original mural. But of course, don’t miss out on the opportunity of seeing the original when you’re in Milan. Nothing can beat seeing the artwork in its original location which will allow you to appreciate this amazing artwork while imagining the genius artist Da Vinci, maybe on a ladder, painting this huge painting in a monastery more than 500 years ago.