The Aged P

…just toasting and ruminating….

The Last Supper – The Genius of Leonardo da Vinci

The Last Supper is one of the most famous of Leonardo’s pictures. Commissioned by da Vinci’s patron, Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, it was painted on a wall inside the convent of Santa Maria della Grazie in Milan in the 1490s. The Last Supper had always been a popular subject for devotional painting but Leonardo’s interpretation lifted the image to a higher plane in terms of art.

Firstly it was a snapshot fixed on a specific moment during the meal when Jesus shocked his comrades

Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.
When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in the spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.
The disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake.

Look at the expressions and postures of the disciples – Leonardo portrayed them as ordinary men suddenly charged with conflicting emotions, not (as had traditionally been done) as a gathering of “saints” with either pious or adoring faces.

See how he also forces the onlooker to focus on the picture through the figure of Jesus, calm and serene compared with all the others.

Bartholomew, James Minor and Andrew form a group of three. All are aghast, Andrew to the point of holding his hands up in a “stop!” gesture.
Judas, Peter and John form the next group of three. Judas, you will note, has his face in shadow and is clutching a small bag (of silver?). Peter is visibly angry and a feminine-looking John seems about to swoon.
Christ is the calm in the midst of the storm.
Thomas, James Major and Philip are next. Thomas is clearly agitated, James Major stunned and Philip seems to be seeking clarification.
Matthew, Thaddeus and Simon comprise the last group of three figures. It appears that, when a situation turns ugly, Simon is the “go to” guy for explanations.

The potency of this work of genius is immeasurable – it allows the observer into the painting itself through the strange interaction between the divine serenity of the eternal Jesus and the so recognisable ordinary everyday humanity of the disciples. In this way Leonardo’s achievement is to transform what is essentially a two dimensional wall decoration into a moment when the hand of God Himself appears to reach out to the unexpecting passer by.

For anyone in London between now and early February there is a once in a lifetime chance to see a unique collection of da Vinci’s paintings at the National Gallery. You will not see the original mural, of course – that remains forever upon the wall of the convent. But there will be an early copy.

One point to note…..looking at the mural it appears to suggest the back of a large empty chair opposite Jesus – it is, in fact, a door, built into the wall by some witless oaf a century after the painting had been finished…..

posted by david in Art,Religion and have Comment (1)

The Maynard Dixon Painting That Told Me To Go To The USA

During the late 1940s and early 50s my dad would sometimes buy a copy of the Saturday Evening Post from our local WH Smith in South London. It was a much better deal in terms of pictures and articles of interest than anything published in England at the time. I particularly remember being astonished at the advertisements for food and drink – this at a time when food continued to be rationed in a rather run down dilapidated post war London suburb, still pock marked with bombed out buildings.

As the years rolled by and prosperity returned Hollywood and Rock n’Roll crafted part of my own cultural outlook. As a history teacher and politics nut I developed a fascination for the American scene but never imagined crossing the pond for real, only in my imagination.

Then in 1990, browsing in a local discount bookstore I picked up a copy of “Exploring The West” by Herman J Viola and there, on page 240 was this picture, “Open Range”, painted by Maynard Dixon in 1942…..

the grim gaunt edges of the rocks, the great bare backbone of the Earth

I was hooked. I just had to go out there and see that for myself – the big sky, the majestic mesas, the sandy, scrubby landscape. I wanted to sense it, feel it, drink it in with my eyes. Moreover I wanted to stand in front of that painting which the book said was part of a collection of western art near the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver. So in the mid 90s we booked a fly drive and I took the car east across the Rockies to Denver, checked into the Brown Palace that night and, bright and early next morning, sauntered out of the hotel to where the gallery was supposed to be and – no gallery, no collection, no picture….apparently the whole project had been closed a few months before and the paintings scattered to the four corners of America.

So I have never seen the painting.

But we did see the landscape. We have driven all around Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. First year we drove from Flagstaff to Bluff, Utah and alongside Monument Valley and I saw it for real.

A few days later we drove to Moab and I stood at Grand View Point in Canyonlands – thinner and with more hair than now – and wanted time to freeze for ever……

….and I so much want to return.

Thank you, Maynard Dixon….

BTW – a few years later we did see many of his paintings at a glorious exhibition mounted at Brigham Young University…..but that painting, sadly, wasn’t there…..

posted by david in Art,Travel,USA and have Comments Off on The Maynard Dixon Painting That Told Me To Go To The USA

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