Leonardo Da Vinci’s mural painting, “The Last Supper”, first makes its appearance in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, in Sir Leigh Teabing’s home. Teabing takes “La Storia di Leonardo”, a fictional art book, and opens up at a representation of the famous mural. He later takes Neveu through to his study to examine an eight-foot long print of the painting.
Teabing remarks on the discrepancy between Da Vinci’s painting and the Biblical and legendary accounts. What is missing is the one cup. Instead each person around the table has their own cup, “tiny, stemless and made of glass”.
In fact, the Last Supper was most likely a Seder meal, a Jewish Passover meal, in which there were four cups of wine. The cup referred to in the New Testament account is one of those four cups.
Teabing goes on to speculate about the person sitting to Jesus’ right, usually assumed to be John the beloved disciple. Teabing contends that this is not John, but a feminine figure, Mary Magdalene. He points to the female symbol, the chalice, found in the way Jesus’ body intersects with the ‘beloved disiciple’. The letter ‘M’, outlined in the painting, is said to be Da Vinci’s clue to the nature of Mary Magdalene.
The Last Supper, also known as “Il Cenacolo” and “L’Ultima Cena”, was painted by Da Vinci as a mural in the refectory of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. He began the work in 1495 and completed it in 1498. Based on a manuscript attributed to Da Vinci, art historians name the twelve disciples in the painting, from left, as Barthomolew, James the Lesser, Andrew, Judas Iscariot, Peter, John. On the other side of Jesus are Thomas, James Major, Philip, Matthew, Jude Thaddeus and Simon the Zealot.
Da Vinci follows the convention of his time of placing Jesus and his fellow guests on one side of the painting. We can imagine Jesus saying to the disciples, “If you want to be in the painting you better get on this side of the table.” Da Vinci departs from religious convention by painting the thirteen men realistically, without halos.
The Last Supper was painted on a dry wall and as a result deteriorated over time. In fact it was descried as ruined only sixty years after its completion. There were several attempts to restore the painting over the years. The most significant restoration was done by Pinin Brambilla Barcilon between 1978 and 1999.
The two images above and below show Da Vinci’s Last Supper painting after and before its most recent process of restoration.