Jacopo Tintoretto, Last Supper

Jacopo Tintoretto, Last Supper, 1594, oil on canvas, 12′ x 18′ 8″ (San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice)

[0:00] [music]

Dr. Steven Zucker: [0:05] We’re in San Giorgio Maggiore, across the Grand Canal from San Marco in Venice. We’re looking at Tintoretto’s “Last Supper.”

Dr. Beth Harris: [0:13] It’s located in the sanctuary of the church on the right wall.

Dr. Zucker: [0:18] It’s huge.

Dr. Harris: [0:19] It’s such an untraditional version of this subject, very Mannerist.

Dr. Zucker: [0:23] We’re so used to looking at Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” in Milan. That’s a painting where the table is drawn across horizontally, which is such a High Renaissance example of the use of linear perspective, with Christ as the vanishing point at the very center of the painting, at the very center of the table. Here, everything is askew.

Dr. Harris: [0:42] Leonardo uses natural light without halos. Christ is framed by a window. Here, the figure of Christ actually glows from within. We return to spiritual symbolism and the spiritual permeates the entire space of this painting in a very evident way.

Dr. Zucker: [1:02] Light is central to understanding this painting. There are really only two light sources here in this very dark painting. Closer to us on the upper left you have a lantern, which just dances with light and flame and smoke, and then there’s the divine emanation.

Dr. Harris: [1:17] From that lamp in the upper left, angels are illuminated, and we see them floating all over the ceiling. It’s not that High Renaissance way of indicating the spiritual through the natural through reality. Here, Tintoretto was not afraid to paint the angels.

Dr. Zucker: [1:36] There is a kind of divine revelation. The light that emanates from Christ’s halo seems quite strong. If you look at the woman who kneels in the foreground slightly to the right, you’ll see that in Christ’s light, her head casts a deep shadow that creates a diagonal that points us towards Christ.

Dr. Harris: [1:53] Then the apostles around the table also have halos of light, although smaller than the light from Christ.

Dr. Zucker: [2:00] This painting is all about energy. It’s all about drama. Look at the way that the primary diagonal of the table moves us back with incredible speed, back to a vanishing point in the upper right corner of the painting.

Dr. Harris: [2:12] Actually, I’m not even sure that it’s a correct use of linear perspective. That table tilts forward so that he’s playing fast and loose with those very ideas that were so critical to the High Renaissance, like linear perspective.

Dr. Zucker: [2:27] Pictorial space seems literally upended. The space rises so steeply and so dramatically and so quickly, and form itself seems to have dissolved under the power of his line and color.

Dr. Harris: [2:40] Tintoretto said that his goal was to unite the two different traditions of the Florentine Renaissance and the Venetian Renaissance, the line of the Tuscan tradition of Michelangelo and the color of Titian.

Dr. Zucker: [2:53] He had a sign written on his studio wall that said exactly that.

Dr. Harris: [2:57] When I look at this painting, I feel pulled in different directions. I feel pulled by the velocity of the orthogonals of the table. Then I feel pulled by the light around Christ.

[3:08] Then I also feel pulled to anecdotal details that are around the periphery. The figure serving food on the right, for example, or in the foreground, or the apostles reacting and talking to each other after Christ’s words, “Take this bread, for this is my body, and take the wine, for this is my blood.”

Dr. Zucker: [3:26] Christ has stood up, turned, and seems to be offering the bread. We have the literal enactment of the Eucharist.

Dr. Harris: [3:32] It’s much more active.

Dr. Zucker: [3:33] I want to go back to that idea of the anecdotal; yes, the woman serving food, but notice that she’s reaching into a basket and a cat happens to be looking into that basket as well.

[3:42] There is this very solemn event that’s taking place and yet at the same time it’s surrounded by elements that are simply not important and make this a human event.

Dr. Harris: [3:50] Let’s make it in a way more real than the pared-down, harmonious, balanced image that Leonardo gives us as a Last Supper.

Dr. Zucker: [4:00] That’s what I find so incongruous about this dark painting and all of its solemnity, yes, but all of its energy within this very staid environment of the church by Palladio, San Giorgio Maggiore.

[4:14] We are in a pristine white building and yet this painting is so dark and so mysterious, and yet Palladio has made everything evident to us with its classicism, its order, its precision, its logic, its rationality. Then in this Tintoretto, we enter into the realm of the spiritual, of the supernatural. This is not the realm of the rational at all.

Dr. Harris: [4:37] Well, we move from the High Renaissance classicism of Palladio into the Mannerism of Tintoretto.

[4:43] [music]

Cite this page as: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker, "Jacopo Tintoretto, Last Supper," in Smarthistory, December 10, 2015, accessed July 18, 2024, https://smarthistory.org/tintoretto-last-supper/.