This eight-metre-wide painting is a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, depicting the part of the Bible where Jesus announces at dinner that one of his 12 loyal supporters (disciples) will betray him before sunrise.
This version was made around the same time as Leonardo made his original. It's oil paint on canvas, whereas Leonardo’s was painted in tempera and oil on a dry wall – an unusual use of materials – so his has flaked and deteriorated badly. It probably didn’t help that Napoleon used the room where the original hung as a stable during his invasion of Milan.
This painting is thought to have been made by Giampietrino and possibly Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio – both pupils of Leonardo. It’s believed to be the most accurate record of the original, and has been used to help with its conservation.
In this copy you can see details now not visible in the original, such as this overturned salt-cellar next to Judas’s right arm. Spilled salt was commonly considered a bad omen in 16th-century western Europe.
And you can also see Jesus’s feet, which were lost in the original when a door was built into the wall that the work is painted on.
Leonardo depicted a range of responses to Jesus’s news, creating a crowded, emotional mealtime.
In contrast, the son of God sits calmly in the centre. While his apostles move in different directions, Jesus’s upper body is arranged as an equilateral triangle: a balanced, symmetrical shape often linked to the divine.
In the Bible, it’s written that in response to Jesus’s announcement, this disciple Phillip asked “Lord, is it I?”
In response, Jesus says “He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me”.
This is Judas, the disciple who will betray Jesus in a few hours. He’s the only apostle with his face in shadow; Leonardo believed that the poses, gestures and facial expressions should reflect the “notions of the mind” or what people were thinking.
With his other hand, Judas is clutching a money purse – an ominous reference to the 30 pieces of silver he will be paid for revealing Jesus’s identity to his enemies.
This disciple, Peter, holds a knife – a reminder that he will later sever a soldier’s ear as he attempts to stop Jesus’s arrest.
This disciple, Thomas, holds out a single finger – a gesture which hints at a later part of the story when Jesus rises from the dead a few days. Thomas will doubt that it’s true so Jesus will say “Reach hither thy finger… and thrust [it] into my side”, and Thomas will do just that.
The Last Supper by Attributed to Giampietrino and Giovanni Antonio BoltraffioRoyal Academy of Arts