Folks told me it was christened The Last Supper.
For three decades, it adorned a wall in the family abode. All through the sixteen years of my existence, I saw in the picture a group of The Twelve, them who were called by Him, for the meal that would be their last under the Sacrificial Lamb.
As the fruit of my maturity ripened, it dawned on me that every painting is home to myriad conundrums, camouflaged imageries and arcane puzzlers all wanting to be smoked out.
- Uncertainty of Identity
There was much debate surrounding the identity of the person to Jesus’ immediate left (from the viewer’s perspective). Some claim it to be Mary Magdalene, while others nominate the Apostle John. This speculation was birthed when eyes regarded the rather feminine appearance characterized by the tresses and the composed, dignified posture. But I would vouch for the Apostle John because, on close inspection of this work of art, I did notice that the number of fingers interlaced in palisade arrangement was six—the exact number of times in the Gospels where John is quoted as the “beloved disciple”. This artistic interpretation could also draw from the fact that John was the virgin apostle.
- The Denier’s Blade
Due regard have I paid to the “bodiless hand” clutching a cleaver being directed at an alarmed Andrew. I ultimately deduced that the aberrant hand could belong to none other than the man who refused to hear of his Lord’s end—Simon Peter. A possible indication of his fickle nature, it would seem that the artist was meaning to throw light on the fact that he would later raise his blade to strike anyone who dared to stir the Master while the other hand points to the Head of the supper table. As maintained by an expert on body language, Linus Geisler, the left hand is associated with feeling and the right with action. A pointing finger is viewed as a threat. It should be noted that while Peter swore from the sky to the earth that he would stand his ground and not let anything befall his King, he denied Him in an anticlimax. Hence, the right hand had the definite upper hand.
- The Five Loaves
The third person in the first triad is Andrew, and the third person in the third trio is Philip, both of whom scouted the lad with the loaves and the fish that would satiate the multitudes, an allusion. A platter with five loaves of bread is placed before each man, a resourceful hint for identification.
- The Spillage of the Salt
In the words of Jesus, as narrated by Luke the Evangelist 34 “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35 It is fit neither for the land nor for the dunghill; men throw it away.” (Luke 14: 34-35)
According to Wikipedia, this is a reference to salt contaminated with other minerals, causing a weakness in flavor or a bland unpleasant taste, and salt was a commodity that was highly priced and valued. European superstition maintained that spillage of salt aroused enmity. Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed with a kiss, is seen as having tipped over the salt-cellar with his elbow while clasping tightly to a satchel of thirty pieces of silver. This is a possible allegory illuminating the unfeasibility of restoring in Judas any merit, proving him “fit neither for the land nor for the dunghill…”.
Says Bishop K. C. Pillai, “Those who have taken salt together would rather die before they would break their covenant. The penalty for violating such a commandment is death.”
“Taking salt together” is an allusion to the Gospel of Matthew, whose twentieth chapter and twenty-third verse states thus, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me.”
- Doubting Thomas
There is a man whose right index finger points skyward—Thomas the Doubter. This is a giveaway of his identity as he was the man suffering from a shortage of faith in the resurrected Lord until he was instructed by the same to “reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and put out your hand and place it in my side.” (John 20:27)
- The Scattering of the Flock
The meal of the Passover was comprised of bread and wine. The artwork portrays the bread scattered hither and thither upon the tabletop which draws from Matthew 26:31 which quotes, “You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I will strike down the Shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” It could also lean on 1 Corinthians 10:17 which states, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”
- The Trees at The Place of the Skull
Behind the central figure, Jesus, there is a central window, noticeably larger- though not by a considerable degree- than the other two. This seems indicative of the three crosses at Golgotha, the ones at the extremities bearing St. Dismas, the Penitent Thief and the man on the left, while the central one bore the Christ.
- Numerology in the Tableware
Before Christ’s figure on the table, we see a dyad of plates, the sight of them paralleling the number 8. Biblical scholars attribute resurrection to the aforementioned number and it is also interesting to note that Jesus appeared a total of eight times subsequent to His death.
- The Hue of His Raiments
Biblical interpretations state that red is the color mentioned in the same breath as bloodshed. The painting depicts the Lord’s chiton in this exact shade while the mantle is set in blue, a color set side by side with service to God and godly living as was expressed by the Paschal Lamb in the Garden of Olives, “Father, if You will, let this cup of suffering pass from me, but not my will however, but Your will be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Now, each time I sneak a glimpse of this replication of a replication, I see in it an anecdote concealed and revealed by the wit of Leonardo DaVinci and Giampietrino. Without dissembling, this picture was indeed worth a thousand words.