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Domenico Ghirlandaio: The Last Supper

Domenico Ghirlandaio 1449 – 1494

The Last Supper

fresco (400 × 880 cm) — 1480 Museum Ognissanti, Florence

This work is linked to 1 Corinthians 11:23

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This is a very large fresco from the refectory (dining room) of the Franciscan church of Ognissanti in Florence.

Ghirlandaio certainly applied the full extent of his skills to this work. He uses the existing shape of the room to create extra space. The view in the background, the painting of the ceiling in the fresco and the shape of the table: they all create depth in the flat surface of the wall.

The viewer is given the illusion that he looks up towards the painted ceiling. In combination with the optical trick of creating views onto the background, the illusion shifts the vanishing point even further back. This technique for suggesting depth is known in Italian by sotto in su: "seen from below".

Judas is the only person sitting in front of the table. Later that night, Jesus will be arrested because of his betrayal. It is remarkable that Jesus is not positioned in the center but slightly to the left. John rests his head on Jesus' chest.

Leonardo da Vinci was familiar with this work when he painted his version of the Last Supper, more than ten years later. What the frescos have in common is that they were both painted in a refectory. One important difference is that Da Vinci's figures show more emotion than Ghirlandaio's, whose figures remain a little static despite the dramatic weight of the moment.

More on the Last Supper in art.

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