A late 15th century mural painting by one of the most recognized painters of the world, Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper is one of the most admired and studied paintings the word would have ever known. As evident from the name, the painting depicts the last meal of Jesus with his apostles, and his revelation that he would be betrayed by one of his friends, and the consequent reactions of rage and astonishment amongst the apostles. The Last Supper (1495-1498), is a Renaissance artwork that is undoubtedly one of the most iconic paintings in the world, and hence merits special attention (West 2017). Accordingly the thesis statement of the following essay is to show that the different compositional elements of artwork present in the painting help in depicting the mood of the painting and contribute to its symbolic significance.
First of all, the painting depicts the painful scene which involves the revelation of Jesus’ impending death, and hence Vinci created a scene of pain, gloom and melancholy. The dark colours such as blue, grey and white have been used in abundance in order to cast a sense of gloom and despondence, and the scene offers a glimpse of a dark room with lot of shadows, that help in creating a sense of foreboding and apprehension amongst the audience (Genius & Wilkins 2015). Although Vinci paints a beautiful landscape in the back, the landscape background is seen terminating in a misty, greyish horizon, highlighting the dull and colourless setting of the refractory, which in turn diffuses a sense of tension over the table. A striking interplay of harmonious movements renders a calm and poised mood to the painting (Underhill 2016). Although Vinci’s painting is the only painting that offers insight into the emotional reactions of each of the apostles, the compositional elements do not depict any form of chaos. The depiction of static mood expressed with the help of the calm and resigned expression of almost all the characters, is an astonishing achievement of the painting. Since the theme of eating is evident in the name of the painting, the extension of the refectory has been rightly chosen as the setting. The rectangular shape has been repeatedly being used in the painting, as it helps in creating a sense of distance between the setting of the painting and the actual position of the audience. Since the theme is historical, a sense of objective distance was necessary to be created. In fact, the long table, the hall space, the receding perspective help us to transpose into a plane where intimacy and private experience give way to compositional concerns. Jesus has been painted at the centre considering that he is the central axis of Christian faith, while reactions of grief, astonishment and rage surround him, creating a sense of dramatic climax followed by the revelation of the catharsis (Freud 2015).
To conclude it, it is clear from the above discussion that the compositional elements present in the painting help in manifesting the essential mood of the characters, as well as help in enriching the symbolic significance. Although Vinci primarily relies on the use of classic linear formula, it is undeniable that he enhances the same with much elegance and sophistication, in order to avoid any formulaic trap.
Freud, S. (2015). Leonardo Da Vinci:" A Psychological Study of an Infantile Reminiscence". eKitap Projesi.
Genius, C., & Wilkins, A. S. (2015). Leonardo Da Vinci and the nature of ‘‘creative genius’’.
Underhill, J. (2016). The Twilight of Presence: Pictorialized Illumination in Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. Leonardo.
West, J. B. (2017). Leonardo da Vinci: engineer, bioengineer, anatomist, and artist. American Journal of Physiology-Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology, 312(3), L392-L397.