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Leonardo’s last supper errors

Allan McGregor from Scotland provides interesting information about The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci.

I was surprised that, in his otherwise excellent article refuting Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code nonsense, Russell Grigg did not wield the Sword of Spirit a deal more sharply when commenting on Leonardo’s famous fresco, The Last Supper.

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci.
Click on picture to see larger version

Let’s be very clear here, arguments over the finer aspects of Leonardo Da Vinci’s interpretation of events are theologically redundant because this painting bears absolutely no relation to the event it purports to depict, as described in the Gospels. In fact, just about every aspect of its composition is entirely wrong, so we needn’t get too heated about its supposed hidden meanings and messages.

The event taking place is a Renaissance artist’s impression based on the cultural imperatives of his own day—more than fourteen centuries after the event.

Whether Leonardo was a closet Gnostic or a joss stick is immaterial; what he most definitely was not is Jewish. That much is abundantly clear from those details of his painting that are not in dispute. However, Jesus and His disciples were Jewish and the event depicted is a Passover Seder, in virtually all aspects of which Leonardo is in considerable error.

First of all, the table is linear and not the three-sided triclinium in popular use in the culture of that day. As the Master of ceremonies, Jesus would have sat near one end, with John and Judas Iscariot on either hand, and not in the centre as shown by Leonardo—besides which, John would have had great difficulty in whispering across to Peter as he did, at the opposite end of a conventional table.

Secondly, the disciples are sitting upright, when the Bible makes clear that they reclined—not only the correct custom when partaking a Passover meal, but ample explanation of the ease with which Jesus washed their feet and the ability of the apostle John simply to lean over and recline in Jesus’ bosom.

Thirdly, Passover is celebrated after sunset on a full moon, whereas the painting unashamedly shows daylight outside the windows, suggesting an Italian luncheon rather than a sacred observance conducted in Jerusalem and held in accordance with God’s holy commandment.

Then there is the question of the menu—depicted by Leonardo as crusty loaves and fishes. That little quasi-religious touch may have gone down well in a monk’s refectory but would have appalled the real participants who solemnly partook of unleavened bread (Matzot) and lamb, to say nothing of four glasses of wine; the third glass of which—the Redemption Cup—is what we now use to commemorate the abbreviated sacrament we call the Lord’s Supper.

So, let’s summarize. Wrong table, wrong time, wrong seating arrangement, wrong menu. Indeed, I could go on, but with so much else that is patently in error with this negligent religious caricature, we do the Bible a profound disservice in even contemplating discussing the accuracy of the guest list.

Allan McGregor
Glasgow, Scotland

Thank you for this informative discussion—Ed.

Published: 22 July 2006