The Last Supper and The Da Vinci Code
In The Da Vinci Code, Leonardo da Vinci's painting of The Last Supper is laden with clues that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and that she is the real Holy Grail. Read on to learn more about this famous painting and its possible hidden meanings.
Overview of Facts and Fiction
In Chapter 58 of The Da Vinci Code, Leigh Teabing and Robert Langdon show a shocked Sophie Neveu the hidden meaning of The Last Supper.
In The Da Vinci Code
Documents and Historical Evidence on The Last Supper
The main historical evidence for The Last Supper is, of course, the painting itself. It can be examined in a high-resolution image here.
What the Experts Say about the The Last Supper in General
In an article for Beliefnet on Leonardo's faith and art, Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, a Professor of Religious Art and Cultural History at Georgetown, writes:
Since the earliest depictions of the Last Supper in Christian art, the moment actually represented was either that of the Institution of the Eucharist or the Identification of the Traitor. When painting the latter, artists focused on the distinctive gestures Jesus used to implicate Judas, such as "one who is dipping bread into the dish with me" (Mark 14:20).
However, there was a third moment described in the Gospel of John (13:21), when Jesus announces, verbally, without resorting to hints and gestures, that one of his faithful followers will betray him. As a Renaissance man, Leonardo was interested in the human and the psychological, so for a new rendering of this traditional Christian narrative, he emphasized that extraordinary moment and the disciples’ response to it. This allowed Leonardo to depict not only inner emotions but their outer display—thus, the movements, especially exaggerated postures and gestures.
The result is one of the great masterpieces of Western art, a mural that still intrigues and enchants. Seated in the center amidst his disciples, Jesus is the focal point of Leonardo’s mural. The drama generates from him outward to the disciples.
Encyclopedia Brittanica's article on Leonardo da Vinci includes the following information on The Last Supper:
Leonardo's Last Supper (1495–98) is among the most famous paintings in the world. In its monumental simplicity, the composition of the scene is masterful; the power of its effect comes from the striking contrast in the attitudes of the 12 disciples as counterposed to Christ. Leonardo portrayed a moment of high tension when, surrounded by the Apostles as they share Passover, Jesus says, “One of you will betray me.” All the Apostles—as human beings who do not understand what is about to occur—are agitated, whereas Christ alone, conscious of his divine mission, sits in lonely, transfigured serenity. Only one other being shares the secret knowledge: Judas, who is both part of and yet excluded from the movement of his companions. In this isolation he becomes the second lonely figure—the guilty one—of the company.
In the profound conception of his theme, in the perfect yet seemingly simple arrangement of the individuals, in the temperaments of the Apostles highlighted by gesture, facial expressions, and poses, in the drama and at the same time the sublimity of the treatment, Leonardo attained a height of expression that has remained a model of its kind. Countless painters in succeeding generations, among them great masters such as Rubens and Rembrandt, marveled at Leonardo's composition and were influenced by it and by the painting's narrative quality. The work also inspired some of Goethe's finest pages of descriptive prose. It has become widely known through countless reproductions and prints, the most important being that produced by Raffaello Morghen in 1800. Thus, The Last Supper has become part of humanity's common heritage and remains today one of the world's outstanding paintings.
Technical deficiencies in the execution of the work have not lessened its fame. Leonardo was uncertain about the technique he should use. He bypassed traditional fresco painting, which, because it is executed on fresh plaster, demands quick and uninterrupted painting, in favour of another technique he had developed: tempera on a base, which he mixed himself, on the stone wall. This procedure proved unsuccessful, inasmuch as the base soon began to loosen from the wall. Damage appeared by the beginning of the 16th century, and deterioration soon set in. By the middle of the century the work was called a ruin. Later, inadequate attempts at restoration only aggravated the situation, and not until the most modern restoration techniques were applied after World War II was the process of decay halted. A major restoration campaign begun in 1980 and completed in 1999 restored the work to brilliance but also revealed that very little of the original paint remains.
What the Experts Say about the Cups in The Last Supper
In the article for Beliefnet, Diane Apostolos-Cappadona writes:
"The Da Vinci Code" makes much of the painting's failure to show the chalice from which Jesus drank and gave to his disciples to drink from. However, this may not be a mystery at all: Earlier Last Supper renditions did not necessarily include what we today picture as a chalice—instead, many show a series of glasses shared by those present.
What the Experts Say about the "Female Figure" in The Last Supper
In the article for Beliefnet, Diane Apostolos-Cappadona writes:
Dan Brown, the novel's author, speculates that one of Leonardo’s disciples is female. How did he (and others before him) come to this dramatic conclusion? The argument runs something like this: Look at the posture and shape of the body, the presence of jewelry, the expansion of the folds or pleats at the bosom, and the gentility of the face and the long hair.
However, gender—how we define masculine and feminine—is culturally conditioned, not biological or physical; so to be fair and factual, we need to look with care not simply at the other figures in this mural or other works of Leonardo, but also those of his immediate predecessors and contemporaries. Doing so, we find that angels--who are presumed always to be men--have soft bodies, gentle (and beardless) faces, bejeweled garments, and long hair during these particular time periods. If we look across Leonardo’s apostles, we see others who are beardless, have long hair, pleated “blouses,” jeweled brooches, and soft bodies or faces. John, as the Beloved Disciple, is always depicted as a youthful, beardless, long-haired, almost pubescent figure with a soft body. This rendering conforms with what our contemporary eyes identify as feminine.
...The visual evidence argues that Leonardo’s emphasis was on the compositional and iconographic elements necessary to create the greatest dramatic effect for the astounding statement by Jesus of Nazareth that “one of you will betray me.”