It is agreed that the Renaissance was a period of great art and architectural feats and ingenuity, during which artists looked back to the classical art of Greece and Rome from which to draw inspiration. This influence can easily be seen in the many paintings and sculpture that came out of the Renaissance.
Artists from both periods experienced a problem with completing and preserving works. In Ancient Greece and later Rome, because of frequent war and the threat of invasion, many of the bronze sculptures that existed were melted down so that the metal could be used for weaponry. In addition to that, the construction of the pieces was often so weak that they would break, usually at joints such as the ankles because they couldnÕt support the weight of the piece indefinitely, or other limbs that were too fragile to withstand any kinds of damages. Because artists of the Renaissance were often commissioned by wealthy patrons or the church, they had to work within the guidelines given by the patrons which limited the freedom with which they could compose a piece.
Although Renaissance art was based on Greek and Roman schools of thought and art, the subtle stylistic differences between the two periods are reflective of the ideals of beauty at the time.
Leonardo’s “Last Supper” is a priceless piece of art with much-hidden meaning and obvious talents bestowed upon a wall. Under the study of Verrocchio as a painter and a sculptor, he was able to use his skills in creating a very detailed and a very naturalistic piece of work that would be remembered for hundreds of years. He was also able to create characters with amazing individuality. Not only was his portrayal of the characters magnificent, but the symbolism he used which emphasized the story being told in the “Last Supper”.
Before Leonardo began painting the actual portrait, he put down a substance which was supposed to absorb the temporal and protect the temporal from the moisture on the wall. Unfortunately, the substance was proved unsuccessful, and by 1517 it began to deteriorate.
The remembrance of the “Last Supper” could be due to the sacredness of the parting meal. It is quite obvious that the skill used in the creation of the “Last Supper” was magnificent. Although, the way Leonardo allows its viewers to depict the scene from a specific point in the Bible adds to the importance and significance of the painting in which no other artist could even compare. He does allow the viewer to recognize this scene by the gestures of both the Lord and the Apostles. The Lord sits ever so quietly while the Apostles rise in reaction to what the Lord had just announced.
He took much time to express every detail of each Apostle and the Lord. Leonardo had even written in one of his notebooks that “A good painter has two chief objects to paint man and the intention of his soul. The former is easy, the latter hard because he has to represent it by the attitude and movement of the limbs”(Heydenreich, 27). For example, the Lord is very relaxed with his arms resting on the table which adds to the portrayal of His greatness.
The distance put between them is called the spatial perspective, which is one of the techniques Leonardo feels is important in naturalistic art. Although, the Apostles are painted in a more restless fashion.
Leonardo not only arranged the Apostles in four groups according to kinship and the personal links they shared but each of the twelve Apostles exhibits an emotional and temperamental reaction appropriate to the character attributed to him in the Gospels.
The Lord Jesus was also given qualities that distinguished Him from everyone else. The Lord Jesus’s hands are laid in a resting fashion on the table. His hands lie between the filled cup and the unbroken bread, the symbols of sacrifice as if pointing in a silent gesture towards them. He seems to relay a message that His business has not yet been completed. Only the objects in front of Him remain in order, as does He remain calm, unlike the objects in front of the Apostles which are in disarray, as are the Apostles also in an unorderly emotional state of confusion.
Leonardo used the beautiful background motif of the pedimented doorway, which was centered on the Lord Jesus, in order to emphasize the Lord Jesus’s greatness. It acted as a crown of glory hovering over His head. The surrounding walls and ceiling, where tapestries hung, were not in natural perspective but in an idealized one. The surroundings were unrelated to any spectator in the room. The same can be said of the characters in the portrait.
He also put a painted border around the painting which cut off most of the ceiling and the walls. These two modifying factors caused the characters to seem to leap out of the portrait.
The “Last Supper” portrayed very individualistic characters which have made Leonardo’s piece of work stand out from all the others who also have tried to create the Last Supper; but, talented Leonardo was able to perfect his creation with his perspective of atmosphere and color.
He used two sources of light which came from the last gleams of the dying day which entered from behind the window with its charming view of the countryside and from the window in the refectory itself. He claimed to have ‘painted in tones of light,’ when he created his “Last Supper”.
To the right of the Lord, the pale green tunic of James the Less forms a transition between the Lord’s blue cloak and the red robe of Philip, whose blue sleeves are just a shade brighter than the tone of Christ’s cloak.
Leonardo believed that naturalization was “harmony between mental and physical motion.” He accomplished the correspondence between physical movement and mental emotion by the pause between two great emotions which are the “momentarily stiffening” at an extreme point of excitement and at the horror of being “startled out of tranquility”. The painting portrays both expression and emotion. This combination complements each other. The expressions allow the viewers to see the emotions the characters are feeling. Their frozen movement allows one to see they are human.