The Last Supper – Before Da’Vinci

The discussion goes like this. “è impossibile ” – There were other Last Suppers before da’Vinci!

No one can deny the powerful visual presence of da’ Vinci’s Last Supper, Il Cenacolo. The various depictions of Jesus and the Apostles at the Last Supper have made a masterpiece of art history and the most famous dinner of all time. However the 15 X 29 foot painting on the wall of the Dominican refectory (dining hall) of the Church of Santa Marie delle Grazie in Milan, Italy completed in 1498 was not the first representation of la ultima cena. 

There were hundreds of “Last Suppers” painted long before da’Vinci. As masterful as Leonardo’s Last Supper is there were other unique and touching depictions of this dinner with friends that changed the world. Here are a few.

6th Century in Ravenna

Last Supper – Sant’Apollinare Nuovo – Ravenna (6th Century)

A 6th century mosaic along the upper band of the right wall of the nave in the Church of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna is considered to be among the earliest images of the Last Supper (an earlier 3rd century composition can be found the Catacombs of Saint Calixtus in Rome). The event is typical of early Christian iconography and the traditions of the Eastern Church. Symbols with hidden meanings and mystical elements are incorporated in decorative mosaics to tell a story and convey a lesson in creating some of the most beautiful mosaics in Western civilization.

1300’s in Padua

The Last Supper – Giotto di Bondone – Padua ( 1304-1305)

One of the most important Renaissance fresco cycles in Italy painted by Giotto located in the Scrovegni chapel on the estate grounds of a money lender’s son who in atonement for his father’s sins sought redemption through art.  A pre-da’ Vinci painting of the Last Supper that in someways is as powerful as Leonardo’s masterpiece in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.

1400’s in Florence

Cenacolo di Sant’Apollonia –  Andrea del Castagno – Florence (1450)

The Last Supper in the refectory of the convent that once belonged to the Benedictine nuns of Sant’Apollonia in Florence is similar to da’Vinci’s Last Supper painted on the wall of the Dominican refectory (dining hall) of the Church of Santa Marie delle Grazie in Milan. In 1860 Castagno’s Last Supper was revealed although significant damage had been done by an earlier layer of whitewash.

Last Supper located in the refectory of the convent of Sant’Apollonia- Florence
Refectory of Sant’Apollonia – Florence

The Last Supper – Domenico Ghirlandaio – Tavernelle val di Pesa (1476)

Domenico Ghirlandaio painted scenes of the Last Supper on several occasions with several commissioned versions.

The Last Supper -Abbey of San Michele Arcangelo a Passignano in Tavernelle Val di Pesa

The Last Supper – Domenico Ghirlandaio – Florence (1482)

The Last Supper – Refectory of the Convent of San Marco – Florence

The Last Supper – Pietro Perugino – Florence (1493-1496)

The “Cenacolo” in the former Convent of Sant’Onofrio – Florence

1400’s in Rome

The Last Supper – Cosimo Rosselli and Biago d’Antonio – Sistine Chapel, Rome (1481-1482)

1498 Milan

Last Supper – Leonardo da’Vinci – Milan (1498)

As with other commissions, da Vinci’s Last Supper was painted on the walls of a refectory/ dining room of a church. However, wherever it would have been da’ Vinci’s interpretation sets it apart. It is charged with activity – talking, questioning, with the Apostles appearing shocked at what Jesus had just told them that someone would betray him. Art historians believe that what makes da’Vinci’s Last Supper so special is that it is full of life and captures the high tension with the masterful use of perspective from the artist, engineer and architect Leonardo da Vinci.



2 thoughts on “The Last Supper – Before Da’Vinci

  1. Please could I use your excellent image of the Ravenna Last Supper to illustrate a book on ikons? Too many photographers crop the border which destroys the whole thing. Michael

    1. Can you give me more specifics about the book and use?

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