Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Reclining at Table

Several biblical translations of Mark 14:18 say, “They reclined at table” but that is not the image that comes to mind for most of us.  To be honest, most of us picture Leonardo da Vinci’s verion.  As we consider his Last Supper, we see a more formal table seating.  Historically, it is more likely that our Lord reclined on floor cushions during meals.  Leonardo’s painting is likely the most famous of all the images of the Last Supper which was painted in 1495 on the wall of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.  Historical note: the convent was virtually destroyed in World War II but the wall that the painting was untouched.[1]

The painting depicts the various emotional responses and shock that the Apostles experienced when Jesus said he was to be betrayed. Until the 19th century, only Peter, John, Judas and Jesus could be positively identified.  The discovery of, The Notebooks Leonardo Da Vinci, shared with the world the remaining names and positions (pg. 232).  From left to right:

  • Bartholomew, James, son of Alphaeus and Andrew form a group of three and all seem to be bewildered at what they have just heard.
  • Judas Iscariot, Peter and John form another group of three. Judas is wearing green and blue and is in shadow, he looks surprised that our Lord knows his plan.  He holds the money bag in his hand – maybe the thirty-pieces of silver or just that he was the treasurer.  Either interpretation allows us to see what was important to him.  Notice also his elbow on the table (the only person), bad table manners!  Peter is clearly perturbed and has a knife hidden behind him – possibly a foreshadowing of the violence he will unleash upon poor Malchus.  looking rather withdrawn and taken aback by the sudden revelation of his plan. John, the youngest of the group appears to faint with fright.
  • Jesus at the center seems calm and happy.  Perhaps the joy is impending consummation of love for His bride the Church upon the cross.
  • Apostle Thomas, James the Greater and Philip are the next group of three. Thomas is clearly upset; James the Greater looks stunned, with his arms in the air. Meanwhile, Philip appears to be requesting some explanation.
  • Matthew, Jude Thaddeus and Simon the Zealot are the final group. Both Jude Thaddeus and Matthew are turned toward Simon, perhaps to find out if he has any answer to their initial questions.

This is how Leonardo pictured the Last Supper.  In your mind’s eye, how do you see this scene in our Lord’s life?


[1] Kenneth Clark.Leonardo da Vinci, Penguin Books 1939, 1993, p144.

3 Responses to Reclining at Table

  1. Nod says:

    Imagination? Are you asking us to use the Kataphatic faculty? The irony!

    I like the explanations from DaVinci’s notebook; it helps quite a bit.

    • Q says:

      I always try to appeal to the masses. The other interesting part of the painting is that it seems that our Lord has no feet. Leonardo did paint them but he also liked to experiment. Sadly, this means that the tempura that he used has flaked off.

  2. Joe Adams says:

    I see Mary Magadlene!!!! To the left of Jesus, in the open space…it forms…”The Chalice”.

    In all seriousness…I’ve always thought this as too much of a banquet occasion where there is a sumptuous feast that detracts from what is actually taking place.

    I wonder what scene DaVinci had in mind, for the background, and why the use of the contrast of black and white? Having actually seen this in Milan, it was reprehensible what they did to it. They used the wrong mixture of chemicals in trying to restore it and actually started eating away at the paint.

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