VALENTIN DE BOULOGNE
(b. 1591, Coulommier-en-Brie, d. 1632, Roma)
The Last Supper1625-26
Oil on canvas, 139 x 230 cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome
The painting shows the most dramatic moment of the Last Supper, when Jesus reveals to the disquieted apostles that one of them would betray him. Beside Christ, St John rests his head on the table and sleeps, in keeping with an iconographic tradition popular in Emilia. Meanwhile Peter, to the left of Christ, raises his hands in a gesture of astonishment. In the left foreground, Judas can be seen holding a purse behind his back: this contains thirty coins, the price of his treachery.
The painting is one of the masterpieces of Valentin's maturity. His compositional scheme shows classical influence, with the solemn and monumental figure of Christ at the exact centre of the scene and the symmetric composition around him, with the apostles distributed regularly around the table. Such stylistic elements are distant from the convulsed and turbulent compositions Valentin had preferred earlier in his career. In contrast to these, which constitute a large part of Valentin's production, this picture reveals an attachment to the classicising French modes that Poussin and Vouet were developing in these years. Yet Caravaggesque style, an essential component of this painting, is perfectly evident in the realism of the apostles' hands, which Valentin depicts without any sort of idealization. The influence of Caravaggio also shows in the masterful control of light which, through the deft play of chiaroscuro, aptly emphasizes the emotional state of the characters. Likewise, light enlivens the simple but effective still life that seems to spring forth from the white tablecloth.