No one can deny the powerful visual presence of da Vinci’s Last Supper, Il Cenacolo. However the 15 X 29 foot fresco-like 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 Leonardo’s.
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.
The various depictions of Jesus and the Apostles at the Last Supper have made it the most commonly painted meal in art history and the most famous dinner of all time. Relentlessly studied and scrutinized by art scholars and endlessly interpreted for a hidden codex and meaning, Leonardo’s Last Supper for me is a moment of simple conviviality that underlies a profound change in God’s relationship with man.
The Last Supper at Ravenna and da’ Vinci’s Last Supper are both “take-your-breath away” moments. Here are a few other unique and touching depictions of this dinner with friends that changed the world.