The Meal of Love.
«Therefore, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.»
(1 Corinthians 11:33)
20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. 21 And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”
22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?” 23 Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” 25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?” Jesus answered, “You have said so.”
26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the[a] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
The topic of «The Last Supper» (which in Catholic tradition is called «Cena Domini» and «Δεῖπνον του Κυρίου» in the Orthodox way) is one of the significant Christian themes. Important incidents happen on the Christ’s last supper: the first incident is when Jesus predicts the Judas treachery, the second one is when he accomplishes the Holy Communion and the third one is when Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. «The main moments of the Last Supper as well as a number of its details have been reflected in painting and interpreted. In case we isolate the subject of washing the feet of the disciples as an independent one, then other two subjects of the evangelic story – such as the prediction of betrayal and the celebration of the Eucharist – form two main types of the Last Supper imageries. They are usually called historical and liturgical (or symbolical), respectively. Thus the historical Last Supper makes an emphasis on the moment of the prediction of Judas betrayal, while liturgical one – on the sacred nature of celebration of the Eucharist.» (A. Maykapar «The New Testament subjects in painting»).
Sacramental – that is the nature of icons, early Christian’s paintings which dwell in catacombs. Contemplation of works of Giotto di Bondone, Pietro Lorenzetti, Taddeo Gaddi – Florentine artists of the «medieval autumn» – excites same sacramental feelings. Thereby early imageries of the Last Supper and contemplation become inseparable.
At first let’s set our eyes on «Agape» – II century fresco from St. Prinscilla catacombs in Rome (slide №2). We start to view carefully a dilapidated backing of this fresco: sandy base of the wall, faded tints: yellow ochre, blue, pale green or discolored blue and brown. We observe arched lines through which the image is sent. The color seems homogeneous – everything is performed rather laconic. Besides, the dynamics, dramatic effect completely absents, in spite of that the figures are depicted as if they were on-the-move.
If we look at the name of early Christian image of the Meal – «Agape» (Greek ἀγάπη – «love»), which was fixed for this kind of images only with time, we realize that it is the history of the will of Love unfolding before our eyes (“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7). Initially, of course, no murals were called, the word “Agape" was used to denote the brotherly, including the Eucharistic, meals. About this meal says Paul in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, which we used as an epigraph.
Early Christian V century mosaic, made in Ravenna, is also contemplative (slide №3). Jesus takes pride of place on the left, the disciples settled down for the D - shaped table. This fresco is very ascetic; there is a lot of space, centered void. There are no strong color contrasts that allow you to stop your eyes on the most liberated figure- the figure of Christ, which, among other things, differs with its large size (which is a symbol of his greatness) from the remaining figures that are, furthermore, fixed. The look immediately focuses on it. Absolute. The point.
As we can see, the background on the early Christian icons is done by some single color. This creates a sense of absent space - that’s probably why you can find comments on the timelessness of icons. Or maybe space is secretly there- it is transcendent to man. At least it wasn’t designated by the artist. No architectural elements, no vegetation, that we are bound to find, for instance, already in Giotto’s works.
Completely different from this is Russian icon, which inherits the tradition of Byzantine icon painting and holds it up to date. Trying to understand which understanding of the meaning of life is inherent to the Russian icon, Eugene Troubetskoy in his «Speculation in colors» attempts to analyze the icons of Andrey Rublev (slide №3). He makes rather curious observations. Thus he writes that «an icon is not a portrait, but a prototype of the oncoming patronal humanity» - i.e. mankind spiritually mature and united in his initiatives. Thus, the icon is the personification of spirituality.
That is why we notice the immobility of the figures, due to which, according to Trubetskoy, «an extraordinary tension reveals and power of steadily performing uplift: the more motionless is the body, the stronger and more clearly the movement of the spirit is perceived here, because the outward world becomes its transparent shell». That is why the icon is contemplative - it awakens us to the inner peace and contemplation.
Probably, Giotto thought the same way about the awakening of the spirit while painting the walls of the Church of the Holy Cross (Basilica di Santa Croce) in Florence - after all, the cultural life of Florence in XIII - XIV centuries was under the influence of the missionary activity of the mendicant orders - Franciscans and Dominicans. However, unlike the Orthodox tradition, a Florentine painter uses a completely different means of expression.
John Ryoskin says in his «Florence Walks» that Giotto influences on Florentine school of painting by his teaching, his faith. The painter is guided by three basic rules: «1. You have to see things as they are. 2. The most insignificant things are on a par with the most high, as they were created by God. 3. You should see the Golden Gate opened and the angels of the Lord coming down from there. There are technical changes caused by this doctrine». Guided by these rules Florentine begins to depict not only the vegetation on the frescoes, but also developing a large palette of life-affirming colors.
His mural «Cenacoli» (1303), which is located in Padua, Scrovegni Chapel, tells us about Giotto as an excellent colorist (slide №4). His disciples are still seated in D - shaped (round) table, but we can already see immovable backs of some of them. Giotto is trying to combine the linear and inverse perspective.
We also see that all the apostles are sitting in different attires (which means trying to give the characters personality traits), with different, but unemotional faces. We may well delight the contemplation of the mysteries, which, in addition, is entered into an architectural structure (meal is being accomplished under a canopy, written under the laws of linear perspective).
Lorenzetti, a disciple of Giotto, paints his mural «Cenacoli» (1320) in Assisi following the precepts of the teacher (slide №4). It is flowering, but moderately, and architectural elements also appear in here. And the apostles, it seems, are already having a lively conversation, as if trying to really understand the words of the Master. We also see that a talking couple is entering and there is a conversation going behind the wall. The mural is filled with more dynamics.
Another pupil of Giotto - Taddeo Gaddi, the way it should be- Florentine - painted «Cenacoli» (1340) in Santa Croce (slide №4). The first thing that catches your eye - is the figure of Judas, landed on the opposite side of the table of Christ. What caused the artist to do so? Indeed, in previous work on this same subject, he paints all the apostles and Christ, sitting at a round table, though Judas had already received an answer and is leaving the refectory - it is expressed with his pose. At the fresco in the church the conflict unfolds before us, which is expressed with the attire of Judah and its position relative to the Savior.
Despite the fact that Gaddi is trying to emulate Giotto by portraying the figures realistically and using landscape elements (in other frescoes) - Gaddi crosses the border set by the teacher - he attached more personality traits to his characters. And besides, he settles them directly into the space of the chapel (strangely, not in the house of Lazarus as it tried to Giotto, Lorenzetti). Perhaps that is why he had to put Judas closer to the viewer, thus it creates multiple composite designs to create the illusion of a deeper space.
It takes a little more than a hundred years. The flowering of the Renaissance. Andrea del Castagno paints mural «Cenacoli» (1450) in the refectory of the Monastery of St. Apollonia (slide №5). Pavel Muratov wrote warmly on this mural in his «Images of Italy»: «For the Castaño Lord’s apostles themselves were not impassive heroes such as those creatures, which were connected in his mind with the pride and glory of Florence. In his «Last Supper» human characters are depicted, and that just concluded its conflict with the laws of the monumental style. But what a terrible and disturbing view of humanity is expressed here! A deep distrust of each other is read in the eyes of the apostles, and the sharp features of their faces show unabated passions. The betrayal of Judas is not bursting, as the voice of worldly evil, to last night’s sacred and sad harmony. It was born of a deep medley of the room and these garments as naturally as the heavy dream of John and destructive Thomas doubt. Thus portrayer of the higher voltage of human passion, the energy in a blaze of which good and evil are indistinguishable, Castaño remains in a few things preserved in some places outside the walls of the refectory of Santa Apollonia.»
For several times Domenico Ghirlandaio paints his «Last Supper» under the influence of Andrea del Castagno (slide №5). Let’s better have a good look at all of them together.
The fresco in the Abbey Passignano most clearly reveals the compositional similarity to Andrea del Castagno. At the «Last Supper» for the monastery of San Marco an entertaining narrative turned the artist to the chronicler of Florence mid XV century. This is one of the most typical works of Ghirlandaio, no doubt created from a sketch by the master and with his active participation. Quietly, modestly, and persuasively it shows what is happening - just look at the impassive Judas, sitting in front of Christ and, apparently, even talking to him. «But the triumph of life here is obvious! Ghirlandaio takes refectorians out of the «underground» del Castagno and sits them somewhere above, sharing views of the treetops of the garden of Eden. Thus, we see more and more receding perspective.
Pietro Perugino’s «Cenacoli» (1495) (slide №6) was created in the same years as the work of Leonardo da Vinci (slide №1). Rich colors are inherent to his work (and very much resemble the color of Giotto). Not only the «Last Supper» appears before our eyes, but scenic views of the Umbrian landscape, that you even begin to lose - what is the principal? Whether the prospect of a downward angel and the saints, or the meal itself, or Judas, whose eyes are fixed on the viewer? (By the way, Perugino not only drew the eyes of Judas on the viewer, but also portrayed him in his own guise).
Period in which this work was produced - was the heyday of humanism. The man begins to believe in himself more than in God. Concern, confusion is not expressed in this work - all runs its course, each busy with his own, prescribed matter. A feeling that Jesus had just uttered the words: «One of you shall betray me» - and Jude looks serene, calm, resigned to fate as if aware that he would betray and everything is predetermined. He was ready to leave, without predicting the betrayal of Christ.
Facing the viewer may be an invitation to participation in the "Last Supper". In addition, it is a transition point to the receding perspective, i.e. painter is beckoning beyond the refectory. He invites the viewer, who has already learned to look beyond the horizon, who already knows that the Earth is round...
We see a completely different mural by Leonardo da Vinci, which is located in the north of Italy (slide №1), but which, however, influenced another southern artist of the Renaissance – Franciabigio, who paints «Cenacoli» in 1495 (slide №6). What a gallery of portraits! What passions! The apparent sense: these are Italians in Italy of the XVI century. There is mild confusion and disarray among the apostles. They seem to have arranged the dispute; they seem to have forgotten in the frenzy that everything is preordained by God and completely lost the idea of humility. Only the figure of Christ is stuck in detached silence - he said everything.
Similar to its dynamics, but superior in its rhythm and color is fresco by Andrea del Sarto, period of 1519 – 1527 (slide №6). It is noteworthy that his figure of Christ and the apostles are performed without halos - symbols of holiness. The reason is precisely the fact that the artist painted his contemporaries. The art of the portrait had appeared not so long ago. And this is one of the first group portraits, and with a plot. Whole drama is played out here, each character tells his story as a group portrait of Rembrandt's «Night Watch».
As we can see, the story of the plot of «Cenacoli» in Florence began to develop the historical direction, where the highlight was the prediction of the betrayal of Judas. Thus the Florentine painting chose their way of drama. Later, with the help of «Cenacoli» an Italian master of the Venice School Jacopo Bassano expresses the triumph of the flesh (slide №7). But for Italy it was normal at that time. Because the triumph of the flesh was identified with the triumph of the spirit (the more the body, the more the spirit). The priority is clear - the drama, which was manifested in Lombardian school through the love to stories related to hunting and fighting. Of course, the work of Bassano cannot be called bacchanalia, but Trubetskoy words – «bacchanalia is an extreme embodiment of the life that the icon pushes» - I think would be appropriate here. Since the dramatic tradition is standing around, thus it denies contemplative nature of the icons, where happens the contemplation of the mysteries of the Christian faith.
Viewing the icons creates «the impression as if the whole bodily life froze in anticipation of higher revelation, to which she listens. And you can not otherwise hear it: at first the call should sound: «all human flesh, be silent.» And only when the call comes to our ears - a human face spiritualizes: his eyes get opened. They’re not only opened to another world, but open others: such combination of perfect stillness of the body and the spiritual meaning of the eyes, often repeated in the higher creations of our icons, impresses»- says Troubetskoy.
Despite the fact that the tradition of Russian icon painting began in Byzantium, it still adheres to the canon and its image calls for «the silence of all human flesh», to bring man to the inner «burning». Such a one can be called an icon of the Dormition Cathedral of Belozersky monastery of the XV century and the Simon Ushakov’s XVII century icon (slide №8).
Because the canon remains, the reverse perspective remains as well, and this is one of the most fundamental principles of Russian icon painting. Reverse perspective not only allows you to experience the other world, but it seems to draw to the mind's eye; not to the point of receding space - the horizon, as in the linear term, but on the contrary, in ourselves - to ourselves. That is why the icon is contemplative. It does not encourage you to worry or finding out– who is Jude, who is John, who is Paul and so on. It's simple – that’s an appeal to our communion, to the great commandment of Christ: "Love one another."
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Images of the WORK: