A high-tech look at da Vinci’s The Last Supper

A copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. Double click to expand

I think the world is in a bad state.   But most weekends, I try to find things to post that are pleasant, funny, beautiful, inspiring or positive in some other way.

I came across a post on Jason Kottke’s kottje.org about how the Royal Academy of Arts teamed up to make a high-resolution, zoomable copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, so that you can examine the painting in detail in a way that wasn’t possible before.

There are two things to feel good about – the genius of Leonardo da Vinci, who could make such a painting, and today’s high technology, which enables us to appreciate da Vinci’s achievement without leaving home.

Leonardo da Vinci painted The Last Supper on the wall of the Santa Maria della Grazie monastery in Milan, Italy, starting in 1495.  Most painters of that period used frescos, mixing paint with wet plaster.  Da Vinci used an experimental technique, painting on dry plaster, which did not work well.  The painting started to flake soon after it was finished.

Monks made a door in the wall, cutting off Jesus’ feet.  Napoleon stabled his horses in the monastery.  It was bombed during World War Two.  Devoted art lovers did their best to restore it, but critics say little of the original remains.

Fortunately three of da Vinci’s students made copies.  The one made by Giampietrino is now in London’s Royal Academy of the Arts, and that is the one that Google scanned.

Jesus’s Right Eye

The painting shows Jesus’s announcement to his twelve closest followers that one of them will betray him before sunrise.  The Apostles are shown in groups of three.

• GROUP 1.  Bartholomew, James the Less and Andrew are all surprised.

• GROUP 2.  Judas Iscariot is taken aback; next to him, Peter holds a knife and looks stormy, while the boyish John, the youngest apostle, simply swoons.

• JESUS is calm and collected, looking straight ahead.

• GROUP 3.  Thomas is upset; James is shocked. Philip wants an explanation.

• GROUP 4.  In the final group of three, Jude Thaddeus and Matthew turn to Simon the Zealot for answers.

In the Bible, it is written that Philip asks, “Lord, is it I?”  Jesus replies, “He that dips his hand in the dish, the same shall betray me.”

Judas is the only one of the Apostles whose face is in shadow.  At Judas’s hand, there is spilled salt, usually considered a bad omen.  His other hand clutches a money purse, a reference to the 30 pieces of silver he has accepted for betraying Jesus.

Peter has a knife.  When the soldiers come to arrest Jesus later that night, Peter will cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear.

Thomas holds out a single finger.  This hints at a later part of the story in which Jesus rises from the dead, but Thomas doubts whether this is true.  Jesus then invites Thomas to thrust his finger into his side, where he was pierced by a spear, and Thomas does just that.

The Zoomable version allows you to zero in on any part of Da Vinci’s great painting and expand it so you can see his art in detail.

A world in which there were great artists like Leonardo da Vinci, great students who were able to copy his work almost perfectly and technological wizards that can enable the whole world to appreciate the greatness of the work—such a world can’t be all bad.


Explore the Last Supper – Google Arts & Culture.

A Zoomable version you can explore.

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One Response to “A high-tech look at da Vinci’s The Last Supper”

  1. David Damico Says:

    Thank you Phil, this was indeed, inspirational.


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