If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Tintoretto, Last Supper

Jacopo Tintoretto, Last Supper, 1594, oil on canvas, 12 x 18 feet, 8 inches (San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice) Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris & Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

We’re in S G M across the Grand Canal from S M in Venice. And we’re looking at Tintoretto’s 'Last Supper.' It’s located in the sanctuary of the church – on the right wall And it’s huge. This is such an untraditional version of this subject – very mannerist. We’re so used to looking at Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper in Milan. That’s a painting where the table is drawn across horizontally – which is such a high Renaissance example of the use of linear perspective – with Christ as the vanishing point – at the very center of the painting – at the very center of the table. And here, everything is askew. And Leonardo uses natural light – without halos. Christ is framed by a window. But here, the figure of Christ actually glows from within – in a return to spiritual symbolism. And the spiritual permeates the entire space of this painting in a very evident way. Light is central to understanding this painting. There are really only two light sources here in this very dark painting Closer to us, on the upper left, you have a lantern, which just dances with light and flame and smoke. And then there’s the divine emanation. And from that lamp, in the upper left, angels are illuminated. And we see them floating all over the ceiling. It’s not that high Renaissance way of indicating the spiritual through the natural – through reality. Here, Tintoretto is not afraid to paint angels. There is a kind of divine revelation. The light that emanates from Christ’s halo seems quite strong. If you look at the woman who kneels in the foreground – slightly to the right – you’ll see that, in Christ’s light, her head casts a deep shadow that [creates] a diagonal that points us towards Christ. And then the apostles around the table also have halos of light – although smaller than the light from Christ. But this painting is all about energy. It’s all about drama. Look at the way the primary diagonal of the table moves us back with incredible speed back to a vanishing point in the upper right corner of the painting. And actually, I’m not even sure that it’s a correct use of linear perspective. That table tilts forward – So that he’s playing fast and loose with those very ideas that were so critical to the high Renaissance – like linearperspective. Pictorial spaces seem literally up ended. The space rises so steeply, and so dramatically, and so quickly. And form itself seems to have dissolved under the power of his line and color. Tintoretto said that his goal was to unite the two different traditions of the Florentine Renaissance and the Venetian Renaissance – the line of the Tuscan tradition of Michelangelo and the color of Titian. He had a sign written on his studio wall that said exactly that. When I look at this painting I feel pulled in different directions. I feel pulled by the velocity of the orthogonals of the table. And then I feel pulled by the light around Christ. And then I also feel pulled to anecdotal details that are around the periphery. The figure serving food on the right, for example. or in the foreground. Or the apostles reacting and talking to each other, after Christ’s words, ”Take this bread, for this is my body,” and, “Take this wine, for this is my blood" and Christ has stood up [and] turned. [And] seems to be offering the bread. And so we have the literal enactment of the Eucharist. It’s much more active. I want to go back to that idea of the anecdotal. Yes, the woman's serving food. But notice that she’s reaching into a basket. And a cat happens to be looking in that basket, as well. There is this very solemn event that's taking place. And yet, at the same time, it's surrounded by elements that are simply not important. and make this a human event. That's right. Make it, in a way, more real than the pared down, harmonious, balanced image that Leonardo gives us of the Last Supper. And that's what I find so incongruous about this dark painting. and all of its solemnity – yes – but all of its energy within this very staid environment of the church by P – S G M. We are in a pristine, white building. And yet this painting is so dark and so mysterious. And yet Paladio has made everything evident of us. with its classicism, its order, its precision, its logic, its rationality. And then, in this Tintoretto, we enter into the realm of the spiritural – the supernatural. This is not the realm of the rational at all. We move from the high Renaissance classicism of Paladio into the mannerism of a Tintoretto.