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Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper Research Paper

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Very few paintings have elicited as much controversy, discussions and dissection as the Leonardo Da Vinci Last Supper painting. This master piece has been subject to a whole new discussion following the [popularity of Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code. People have analyzed the painting a fresh by looking at whether it truly depicted a true picture of Jesus Christ and his disciples. There have been opposing sides to this debate; however, it would be almost impossible to tell whether the painting had any hidden messages.

In 1495, the Duke of Milan commissioned the Last Supper’s painting. He had employed Da Vinci to begin working on the painting. Da Vinci had been employed by the Duke for a period of 18 years and he did the painting during his last few years under the Duke’s employ. Da Vinci was a well-known procrastinator and it was no surprise when the painting took approximately four years to complete. Many believed that he extended the painting period so as to continue his employ under the Duke for longer.

Size used and space used for the paintings

The size of the original painting was believed to be approximately fifteen by twenty nine feet. It was mounted on a wall at the Convent of Santa Maria Delle Grazie in Milan Italy. This is unlike the Ajanta paintings. The space available to the Ajanta painter was not limited; it was rather comparatively extensive.

The Ajanta artist usually had a full wall to themselves. They extended their artistic work on to the adjoining wall. Da Vinci’s version of the Last Supper has proven to be the best version. The Guernica painting on the other hand was 3.5 meters tall and 7.8 meters wide.

Style used in the paintings

The painting of the last supper draws the attention of any admirer to the center of the work, which is Jesus Christ’s head. This painting can be categorized as a single focal point painting. Even those who possess very little knowledge of art find themselves drawn to the focal point of the painting.

Da Vinci’s version of the painting is the first ever version that shows Jesus Christ and His disciples as ordinary people who shared meals together. He was also the first to depict any emotion on the disciples’ faces. The last supper was made using experimental pigments on dry plaster. The style that was used to make the painting was mural and not fresco.

The Ajanta painting uses a concentration of surface patterning and local color (Geertz 1997). This means that the plain color of an object remains so without any modulations to light, reflection or shade. This style is characterized by the local color being defined by an outline. This is depicted clearly in Indian, Tibet and Japanese art.

An analysis of Ajanta paintings begs the question as to whether the paintings are truly fresco. Fresco means that the colors were specifically applied on lime plaster that was wet.

This is in contrast to other Indian and Asian murals that were painted on dry walls. In Ajanta paintings, the rough surface of the wall is covered with layers of cow-dung or mud. This is in turn mixed with animal hair which acts as a binding medium. Afterwards, the surface would be evened out and layered with gypsum or lime plaster. The painting was then done on this surface.

The artist worked out a variety of arrangements. The most favored were horizontal bands. Furthermore, they were able to create a differentiation which came to the fore with wavy lines. It is further observed that the movement of themes moves from left to right and vice versa. On the other hand, an observer may see the paintings as being too overwhelming due to their close proximity to one another (O’Riley 2006).

A close analysis of the eyes of Ajanta Fresco depicts them as unique. The artist made the eyes look like they depicted a certain look of grace and kindness. This effect was achieved by creatively drawing the eyes of the princess, kings and spiritual gods with a weavy eyelid of meditative nature.

The Guernica painting by Pablo Picasso on the other hand, used the cubism style of art which is a key component of the message in the painting. This is a style of art that is characterized by many geometric shapes incorporated into abstract designs (Arnheim 1973). The lines in Picasso’s work can be compared to that of a Grecian temple. The two basic geometric shapes of the Greek temple façade have been fused to form the oblong pyramidal scheme of the painting.

Critics have however criticized this point of view. They argue that the cubism way of art has been completely looked at in the wrong way. The Greeks used many geometric shapes and utilized much detail into creating their robust images of gods and goddesses. On the other hand, the geometric figures in the Guernica lack any specific detail and only serve to create chaos and terrors as depicted in the painting.

The cubist style of art, mainly the abstractism has been efficiently used to display panic and the continuous argument against senseless war. The dismembered limbs of livestock are represented by chaotic shapes. The painting portrays the passion and feelings that Picasso has towards war.

Themes and symbols used in the paintings

The three paintings are all claimed to have hidden meanings and utilize the use of symbolism. For instance, The Last supper painting has a lot of controversy. For instance some experts believe that the painting shows events of the evening before Christ was betrayed. It also believed to be a likely depiction of the Eucharist.

All speculation about the painting comes after this agreement. Some people believe that indeed Christ was surrounded by His disciples but disagree on whom exactly the disciples were. Most works of history agree that the person on Christ’s right hand is John. However, after Dan Brown released his book, many people now believe that it was Mary Magdalene.

Information Technologist, Slavisa Pesci, claimed to unlock hidden secrets in the painting by creating a visual effect. He managed to achieve this by overlaying a semi-transparent mirrored version of the painting on top of the original Last Supper Painting. Da Vinci was a well-known mathematician and had a penchant for backward ‘mirror writing’.

Pesci believed that the secrets in the painting were unveiled using his visual effect technique and that the theory of John being absent during the last supper was indeed true. He also supports the dagger theory. Many experts have however disputed this theory.

Many people believe that in the painting there is a ghostly hand, Peter’s hand, holding a dagger. Others see it as just a knife considering the setting of the painting that is depicted is a meal. The ghostly hand is believed to belong to Peter. The painting has been under constant repair because Da Vinci had been experimenting with dry plaster. He could have instead utilized the use of tempera on wet plaster. Many sketches show that Da Vinci had been trying out different positions where he would place of Peter’s hand properly holding the knife.

Other theories believe that the painting is a depiction of the Passover meal. However this has been disputed as the bread in the painting appears to be leavened which would not have been served during the Passover. Passover took place at night while in the painting it is depicted as being during the day. Other people believe that in the painting there is a hidden baby in a chalice.

The Guernica shows the tragedies of war that took place in the Basque town. The painting is a representation of the suffering the war inflicted upon individuals, more so the innocent civilians. It represents an anti-war symbol and an embodiment of peace. Displaying the Guernica on a world tour once it was completed resulted in its fame and is widely celebrated (Barton 2004).

There have been endless debates about what this particular painting represents since it was unveiled back in 1937. Controversy about the painting comes from the fact that the painting doesn’t show the actual bombing of the Basque town. However, some experts disagree with this notion. They argue that the scenes in the painting are made clear by the title and leave no room for any sort of discrepancies.

The nature and position of the elements in the painting are crucial elements that should not be ignored. He draws attention to the relationship between the bull and the horse. Many analysts have attempted to analyze the symbolic meaning of the two animals. Some say that the male represents the male principle while the horse represents the female (Hensbergen 2004). These conclusions are drawn from his previous work, Minotauromachy, which was done before Guernica.

It is observed that in this Minotauromachy painting, the bull and the horse are also featured. Many would say that the horse represents the massacred civilian population of Basque town while the bull symbolizes the Western European governments who stood by and did nothing. The location of the bull in the painting is on the western end and has its head turned away from the event (Richardson 2007).

The bull symbolizes different meanings to different authors. It therefore becomes impossible to draw a conclusion as to which opinion is correct. However, the most evident thing in the painting is that the bull remains the only character that is not a victim. It is seen as standing outside observing the chaos and doing nothing about it. When the two paintings, Guernica and Minotauromachy, are compared it becomes clear that the bull is the aggressor while the horse remains the victim (Held and Alex 1988).

This painting is a representation of the pop culture and seeks to make a political statement. It is a constant reminder of the war and destruction that happened. Picasso conveys his anti-war messages to his audiences and ensures that it remains relevant through-out history by using the cubist style and obfuscatory symbolism. While it is clear that all the aspects of his painting may not be effectively understood by everyone, his intentions remain clear (Brunner 2001).

The Ajanta paintings on the other hand depict scenes from the Jataka tales and the life of Lord Buddha. The paintings inform whoever is observing, the teachings and of the Buddha and life through successive re-births. Other themes present in the Ajanta paintings include love, the joy of feasting singing, and dancing together with all the splendor of the royal courts. They display a meaning the unity of life through the panorama of all forms of life.


Da Vinci’s painting appears to be what it is to different people. People see what they want to see in the painting. It is however important to note that the painting doesn’t reveal any keys or hidden divine secrets. The Guernica and Ajanta paintings also carry the same weight when it comes to interpreting what the artist actually wanted to portray when he/she painted them. The paintings are but a depiction of the artist’s own opinion.


Arnheim, Rudolf. The Genesis of a Painting: Picasso’s Guernica. London: University of California Press, 1973. Print

Barton, Simon. A History of Spain. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Print

Brunner, Kathleen. Guernica: The Apocalypse of Representation.” The Burlington Journal, 2001. Print

Geertz, Hildred . Images of Power: Balinese Paintings Made for Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead. University of Hawaii Press, 1997. Print

Held, Jutta, and Alex Potts. How Do the Political Effects of Pictures Come About? the Case of Picasso’s ‘Guernica. Oxford Art Journal,1988. Print.

Hensbergen, Gijs van. Guernica: The Biography of a Twentieth-Century Icon. London: Bloomsbury, 2004. Print

O’Riley, Michael Kampen .Art Beyond the West. New Jersey: Pearson Education, 2006. Print

Richardson, John . A Life of Picasso: The Cubist Rebel, 1907-1916. New York: Knopf, 2007. Print

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