BOUTS, Dieric the Elder
(b. ca. 1415, Haarlem, d. 1475, Leuven)

The Last Supper

Oil on panel, 180 x 150 cm
Sint-Pieterskerk, Leuven

The Last Supper is remarkable for its stylistic purity and sobriety. The faces of the apostles do not vary greatly. Their gestures seem to have been frozen at a particular point in time. It is an important moment, and those present seem to be meditating on its significance. This superbly glacial and hieratic aspect of the style contrasts with other elements that are equally present, and more down-to-earth, prefiguring the realism of a Van der Goes. Two honest servants in the far left hand corner of the room are observing the proceedings through a hatch from the kitchen. Together with another figure - who may represent the painter himself and who stands by ready to wait on Christ and his disciples - they serve to place this momentous scene firmly in the context of everyday life.

The real novelty of this extraordinary painting lies in its systematic application of the laws of perspective. Jan Van Eyck and Rogier Van der Weyden had already used perspective, but only in interior scenes that were much simpler than this Last Supper. They had done nothing as complex or as perfect as the architecture of this central room. Moreover, the space is not entirely enclosed, for the outside world is visible at two points: once through the windows to the left, through which distant houses are visible, and again through the arch at the back of the room. This latter opening gives onto an enclosed garden painted in blue and pink tones, as if space were stretching out across it towards an invisible horizon. The trapezoid of the white table cloth, the distribution of the figures around it and their convergence on the central figure of Christ, as well as the subtle rhythm of the different colours, all conspire to endow this complex composition with a profound pictorial unity.