We do not know what the Last Supper scene actually looked like because none of us were there but every artist will interpret it in a personal way. I would like to share why I chose to paint it as I did.
I decided beforehand who every figure would represent and recalled what is known of him in Scripture and Tradition while I painted. From left to right are: St Bartholomew, St Thomas, St Jude, St Matthew, St Philip, St Peter, Jesus, the Bread of Life, St John and his brother, St James, Judas, St Andrew, St Simon and St James.
Jesus, in the center, sits a little higher than the rest because He is the Lord. A halo of light emanates from Him. It is not light falling on Jesus but coming out of Him. Jesus is wearing white because He is the Resurrection and has a dark mantle on His shoulders because He is taking on Himself the sins of the world. The folds of the mantle on His shoulder, form what looks like the head of a lamb to remind us that Jesus is the Lamb of God. He is giving Himself totally to us like the lamb that was totally consumed during the Passover dinner. Before Him is a dish of the customary bitter herbs which are indicative of the bitter passion that awaits Him. The meal would have ended and the carcass of the lamb, still all in one piece, would have been removed from the table. None of the bones of the cooked lamb would have been severed while it was eaten, a prefiguring that none of Jesus’ bones would be broken, so there are no remains of the lamb left on the table.
Jesus eyes are focused on Judas across the table from Him. Judas had to be nearby if Jesus and he were to dip a morsel into the same bowl. Jesus is extending His love to Judas as He does to all us sinners. Giving Himself entirely, Jesus is offering a plea of love even in this last moment before Judas acts on his betrayal.
But Judas is indifferent and ignores Jesus, as we do when we sin. He is about to fill a cup with the jug in his hand. I placed four cups in the painting, one on each of the first four panels. They represent the four cups it is believed were used at the Passover meal; the first, the cup of sanctification, the second, the cup of judgment, the third, the cup of redemption and the fourth, the cup of praise. It is the third cup that Jesus uses to institute the Eucharist, after which He said He would not drink of the cup again until He would do so in Heaven. During the Last Supper Jesus did not offer the fourth cup.
Judas is pouring this fourth cup of praise and glory to show that he intended, in his audacity, to push Jesus into establishing His kingdom. He was eager to reap the benefits of being one of Jesus’ chosen friends. He could not accept that Jesus would bring about the Kingdom through suffering and dying, and wanted to force Jesus into action against the Romans. He is dressed in the yellow of hypocrisy. His foot is the only one showing in the painting to recall Psalm 41:9 “Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted his heel against me”.
What must Jesus have felt at this time! I wanted to paint the expression of Jesus to show Him to be the All Good and All Truth. I strived to make Him look friendly yet firm, approachable yet majestic. I hope the face of Jesus conveys this sentiment. I spent a day in praying and fasting before I painted Jesus’ face, as I do before starting any religious painting. This is not a work to be taken lightly and I must empty myself first to allow God to work through me.
From an artistic point of view, I chose the figures on the right side of the painting to create a circular motion while those on the left to remain static, in order to shift the symmetry of the composition to the right. St Andrew points to Jesus, as he does in Scripture, to lead the eye back to the center and to that point of rest in the painting; the center of interest is in Jesus’ outstretched arm toward John and John’s hand about to move in response.
Like John, may we always be ready to respond to Jesus’ invitation to the Eucharist.
Audio Production & Music by Bettina Cassar
Permanent display in cafeteria at Cathedral-Carmel School
Continue on to Gallery VII