(b. 1518, Venezia, d. 1594, Venezia)

The Last Supper

Oil on canvas, 365 x 568 cm
San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice

The church of San Giorgio Maggiore was built on the San Giorgio Island between 1566 and 1600 using the design of Palladio. After 1590 the workshop of Tintoretto was commissioned to paint big canvases for decorating it. Due the large number of commissions, Tintoretto in his late years increasingly relied on his coworkers. However, three surviving paintings placed in a chapel consacrated in 1592 - The Jews in the Desert, The Last Supper and The Entombment - were certainly painted by Tintoretto himself.

Tintoretto painted the Last Supper several times in his life. This version can be described as the fest of the poors, in which the figure of Christ mingles with the crowds of apostles. However, a supernatural scene with winged figures comes into sight by the light around his head. This endows the painting with a visional character clearly differentiating it from paintings of the same subject made by earlier painters like Leonardo.

The curious diagonal position of the table for the Last Supper is explained by the installation of the painting on the right wall of the presbytery of San Giorgio Maggiore. The table was to be perceived by visitors to the church as an extension in perspective of the high altar, or conversely the high altar was to be seen as a prolongation of the table for the Last Supper. The priestly bearing of Christ and the liturgical utensils on the small side table play on the same connection. The winged apparitions characterize the Eucharist as the "bread of angels" (St Thomas Aquinas) and in their non-material, other-worldly nature indicate the mystery of transubstantiation (the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ). While the composition of The Last Supper as a whole follows a wall hanging by Giulio Romano depicting the Passover, the detail of the eerily flickering candlestick was suggested by a Crowning with Thorns by Titian (Alte Pinakothek, Munich), which Tintoretto had acquired from the master's estate when he died.

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