|Leonardo's Last Supper (ca. 1495-98) in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, was commissioned by his patrons Duke Ludovico Sforza and Beatrice d'Este. The painting represents a scene from the Gospel of John, chapter 13, verse 21, when Jesus announces that one of his Twelve Apostles will betray him. Unlike some earlier depictions of the Last Supper, Leonardo does not give all the apostles halos with the exception of Judas but instead casts Judas' face into shadow to distinguish him from his fellow Apostles. |
The Last Supper was executed not in traditional fresco, but in tempera and oil paint on a dry wall. The original has deteriorated very badly as a result of this experimental technique and the dampness of the wall on which it is painted. Giampietrino's early copy, possibly painted around 1520, is almost the same size as the original but lacks the top third of Leonardo's composition. It does however shows details that are not now visible in the original, such as the salt-cellar overturned by the right arm of Judas and the feet of Jesus which were lost when another door was inserted in the refectory wall.
The Royal Academy bought this copy for six hundred guineas from an H. Fraville in 1821. The earlier provenance of the painting is not known apart from the fact that by the 17th century it was in the Refectory at the Certosa in Pavia. The Royal Academy were delighted to be offered this painting as they were 'of the opinion that the possession of such a work would be of essential benefit to the Schools of the Academy', according to the Council Minutes of 11 June 1821. It was intended as an example for the students to emulate, and in 1825 Henry Fuseli, in his capacity as Professor of Painting, was able to deliver his eleventh lecture in front of this magnificent record of the original glory of Leonardo's now-faded masterpiece.