Last Supper Art
Art depicting a feminine companion with Jesus at the Last Supper includes stained glass windows, paintings, sketches, sculptures, mosaics, woodcuts and stamps. The illustrated scene presents different compositions; the most familiar details a disciple intimately leaning in close to the Lord, unlike Leonardo da Vinci’s version wherein the disciple is inclined away from Jesus. Judas is often painted without a halo, carrying a money bag and is regularly portrayed as a redhead.
Examples of numerous artists’ work depicting a beardless youth with feminine features predate Da Vinci’s interpretation. Several paintings created by earlier Italian artists, specifically in Florence, where we find Leonardo’s Last Supper, indicate a movement toward expressing beliefs belonging to a tradition predating the Renaissance master.
Leonardo da Vinci painted a woman sitting next to Jesus in his famous Last Supper painting, yet he calls this disciple John. Accurate historical accounts of the political era account for this; he could not give the Apostle of the Apostles a female name, let alone name her Mary.
There are many ambiguous portrayals of John in this scene; although sometimes depicted with masculine features and sometimes semi-masculinized with feminine features, only a few artists chose to give him a beard. John/Mary often has refined facial features and can be interpreted as either male or female by the onlooker. Then there are those artists who chose not to hide their point of view, simply presenting a woman sitting next to Jesus.
A common theme in many of the Last Supper artworks is the portrayal of deep intimacy between Jesus and the unknown disciple: intimacy between Jesus and a woman or between Jesus and a man.
Many artists depict the unknown disciple as much smaller than the other disciples. This small stature sometimes resembles a pubescent child. Peadeastry was a common cultural tradition practised by the ancient Greeks, an older man having relations with an adolescent male youth.
The more the church insists on Mary being John, the more the incongruence grows between opinion and reality.
Exploring Last Supper art in this context has brought to light the vast amount of pieces that are in existence, scattered across the globe; one wonders how many unknown works of art exist that we may never see; some remain unclassified, so they cannot be easily accessed. The further one goes back in history, the more difficult it becomes to find the artists or locate the churches, museums or institutions which display them.
Header Image: The Last Supper Mosaic 1887 / I.P. Kudrin, I.A. Laveretsky, M.P. Muraviev, I.A. Pelevin and N.Yu. Silivanovich 1885 – 1906
Russian Mosaicist from Imperial Academy of Arts / Based on Sketches by Semen Zhivago 1807 – 1863
St Isaacs Cathedral St Petersburg Russia
Photo Credit: Pamela CC BY-NC-ND 2.0