“Even in an era of boundless scientific discovery and technological invention, and of sublime artistic and humanistic achievement, Leonardo da Vinci […] stands as a supreme icon in Western consciousness - the very embodiment of the universal Renaissance genius […]” (Bambach, 2003).
The lifework of master draftsman, engineer and inventor Leonardo Da Vinci inherits a wide roster of works, which had great influence on science, philosophy and art. This paper examines one of the probably most famous and also argumentative pieces of art he had ever created: The Last Supper.
Besides biographical information, this term paper will give insight on the different and important steps Leonardo had undergone during his career, for example his apprenticeship in the studio of Andrea del Verrocchio and his first ink perpetuation. The main part of this thesis examines the fresco of Leonardo Da Vinci itself, giving short insight on the evolutionary history. Also discussed in the main part is the design of The Last Supper with special regard to the scenery of the foreground, middle ground and background. Furthermore, the main part will provide a detailed description of the fresco regarding its arrangement, spatial scope, color ranges as well as the apostles depicted in the Last Supper.
The last part will scrutinize how the setting and the gestures of each apostle as well as Jesus could be interpreted with regard to the biblical background and the implementation of Goethes’ point of view after seeing this piece of art as he traveled from Rome back to Germany.
2. Biographical background
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci was born in 1452 in Vinci, a town in the hills of Tuscany. Detailed facts about his parental background are rather vague, but he was the illegitimate son of a prominent notary named Messer Piero Fruosino di Antonio da Vinci from Florence and a local woman named Caterina.
Around 1466 Leonardo da Vinci entered the world of art as an apprentice for Andrea del Verrocchio, one of the leading figures of the early Renaissance, besides Donatello. At the side of Andrea del Verrocchio, Leonardo was able to learn all about the art of sculpting, painting and drawing and began to transpose his talent and adopt certain techniques used by his master, such as the emphasis of detailed human depictions. After finishing his apprenticeship at the age of twenty he continued to work with Verrocchio on some further artistic works. Around 1478 Leonardo began to set up his own studio in Florence, where his first unfinished large image Adoration of the Magi (Fig.1) was created for the monks of San Donato a Scopeto, which he had never been able to finish as he left to Milan between 1481 and 1482.
illustration not visible in this excerpt
Fig.1: Adoration of the Magi, oil on panel, 246 x 243 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Leonardo da Vinci got into closer contact with the military as he served for the Duke of Milan, Ludovico il Moro, offering him his skills as a talented engineer and mathematician. Although his service for the Duke of Milan was focused on military purposes, great works such as the Virgin of Rocks and most importantly The Last Supper were drawn during his sojourn in Milan.
illustration not visible in this excerpt
Fig.2: Leonardo da Vinci, The Virgin of the Rocks. Oil on canvas transferred from wood, 199 x 122cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris, 777
The second Italian war in 1499 forced Leonardo to flee from Milan to Venice, where he worked for military projects again, but he returned to Florence in 1500. The works he had produced until his return to Florence acquired much admiration by other local artists. Once again, Leonardo served for military purposes again, this time as military engineer for Cesare Borgia in 1502. Leonardo’s father died in 1504, during his stay back in Milan, where he worked for King Louis XII of France from 1506 until 1513. During that time Leonardo traveled between Milan and Florence to visit his brothers and in order to sort out the inheritance of their father. In 1514 Leonardo da Vinci moved to Rome for two years, where he resided in Belvedere in the Vatican of Rome and was predominantly engaged in scientific experiments. In his final three years, the French King Francois I invited Leonardo to Clos Lucé where he lived in a house near the King’s Chateu Amboise. He died on May 2, 1519; his remains got lost during the religious wars.
2.2. Influences on Leonardo da Vinci as a draftsman
Andrea del Verrocchio was certainly the key figure for Leonardo’s development of his sense for art, but just as some facts about his biography it is more or less a matter of assuming what factors might have influenced Leonardo da Vinci and his art, as we know it today. Before Leonardo opened up his own studio he had worked with Verrocchio for another 6 years after his apprenticeship. Not only did Leonardo learn the art of sculpturing or processing of noble metal during his apprenticeship, he also discovered painting with the oil and refined his technique during several collaborations with Verrocchio as well as projects Verrocchio couldn’t finish on his own and therefore relied on the help of his assistants. As Leonardo was one of the most talented and versatile pupils it is quite suggesting that Verrocchio kept him as assistant as long as possible (Bode, 1921). Verrocchio was totally covered with one contract after the other, so his assistants and especially Leonardo da Vinci had the opportunity to constantly apply and expand their artistic skills. Having been a remarkable craftsman, Verrocchio had a great concern for the quality and execution in expressing the vitality of the human figure, elements that were important in the formation of Leonardo’s artistic style (U*X*L, 2003)1. It is believed that Leonardo must have learned a variety of drawing techniques in Verrocchios’ shop, including brush drawings on linen, silverpoint on prepared paper, pen and ink, and black chalk (Bambach, 2003). Nevertheless, the main difference between Leonardo and the pupils of Verrocchio is that the wasn’t treated as a pupil anymore after his apprenticeship. Leonardo discovered and developed the technique of oil painting with such an expressional and vivid way that Verrocchio recognized that he was not able to compete with his tempera technique and didn’t have the spirit and time anymore to acquire this technique (Bode, 1921).
This was the pivotal aspect that lead Verrocchio to the decision of implementing Leonardo and his oil painting skills in creating a picture where Leonardo’s first artistic drawings occur: The Baptism of Christ (Fig 3.). Leonardo painted one of the angels on the left hand side and is also responsible for the landscape in the background. It is said that Leonardo painted the angel in such an astonishing manner for the surprise of Verrocchio that latter decided to never touch a pencil again.
However this statement has never been proven and Bode rather doubts that Verrocchio himself would question his artistic ability in such an extreme way, neither would have done his coevals (Boden, 1921).
illustration not visible in this excerpt
Fig.3: Andrea del Verrocchio, The Baptism of Christ, 1472-75, Oil on wood, 177 x 151cm, Gallaria degli Uffizi, Floerence
2.3. Leonardo ’ s elaborations and legacy
The Italian Renaissance, respectively the High Renaissance emerged in Florence and put high emphasis on a detailed representation of human anatomy regarding paintings during that time. Perspective and linear forms of art, be it architecture or paintings, developed in the beginning of the High Renaissance. Especially Leonardo da Vinci embedded this technique in his paintings, with the main difference of refinement and enhancement like implementing light or shadow into his paintings and therefore extend its spatial effect.
1 "Leonardo da Vinci." U*X*L Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. 10 Mar. 2009 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.
- Quote paper
- Philipp Tatai (Author), 2009, Leonardo Da Vinci´s "Last Supper" - An Examination, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/181752