A great painting of the Last Supper, by a master painter


#1

This painting was made between 1592-4 by the Italian Renaissance master painter Tintoretto.

"The halo around Christ’s head stands at the very center of the painting, as if to say: Here indeed is the true light of the world, the light that shines in the darkness, a light the darkness has not overcome, in spite of its best efforts. The Lord is dressed in a red tunic with a blue outer garment, colors that Tintoretto’s contemporaries might have connected with their use in The School of Athens by Raphael: red for fire, and blue for its opposite element, water—symbols alike of divine love and divine judgment.

The apostles—those who are in a state of grace—are recognizable in the eleven gently illuminated heads. Gone are the awkward early medieval disc-haloes that one-point perspective had converted into saucers or platters; in their place, a soft play of supernatural light around their otherwise shadowy countenances. The apostle to the Lord’s left gazes contemplatively. Other apostles gesticulate, lean over, rise up, gripped in anxiety about the treachery, provoked to wonder by the mystical supper. The apostle nearest to the viewer even motions to a beggar to stop bothering him, as there is something more important to pay attention to. In keeping with an artistic convention, Judas is the only disciple depicted sitting on the opposite side of the table, dressed in better garb than the others—in fact, in a garb remarkably like that of a Cardinal—with a hand gesture that suggests detached, critical commentary, as if theorizing at a Synod about new rules for communion.

Meanwhile, a number of waiters busy themselves with food, drink, and dishes, seemingly oblivious to the unfolding of the new and everlasting covenant. How sharply it should pierce us when we think of the indifference and apathy of so many in our world to this ultimate manifestation of divine love that occurs every day throughout the world! Wherever the sacred mysteries of the Body and Blood of our crucified and risen Savior are celebrated, there are, to be sure, some on the inside like the eleven and some like Judas, but many more on the outside, preoccupied servants intent on their worldly business, blind to the light shining from the face of Christ. In fact, some behave like the cat in the lower middle of the painting, an irrational animal whose only appetite is for material food. Tintoretto, like Dante, tours us through heaven and hell: we see holiness, active and contemplative; we see malice; and we see the lukewarm absence of either.

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#2
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But perhaps the most wondrous touch of all in this painting is Tintoretto’s lifting for us of the veil separating the invisible realm from the visible, showing hosts of angels surrounding the Son of God, giving Him the homage that is His due. Spirits from the realms of light, they bring their own luminosity with them into a darkness to which they are impervious. They are like living flames of love, fully awake and alert to the meaning of what is taking place in the Heart of Jesus, in His hands, in this feast that anticipates and symbolizes the bloody sacrifice of Calvary on the morrow, which opens the way to the heavenly wedding feast of which the angels already partake.

The whole painting is therefore a catechism on sight and blindness. What is it that we see when we attend Mass? What would we have seen at the Last Supper, or at the foot of the Cross? Do we see with the eyes of faith the glory of the Son of God, sacrificed for our sins, risen for our salvation, offered at the altar for our lifelong redemption, fed to us for our pilgrimage to eternity? Do we profess and believe in this light shining in the darkness of the world that threatens to engulf us, and in the chiaroscuro of the Church on earth made up of saints and sinners?"
(from article at lifesitenews, “What Christians can learn from this beautiful depiction of the Last Supper,” at https://www.lifesitenews.com//blogs/a-stunning-depiction-of-the-last-supper )


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