The Last Supper

I came down to Magdalen College, Oxford for the last public appearance of the early copy of Leonardo’s Last Supper, bought by the RA in 1821 for 600 guineas, before it returns to the RA on Monday in preparation for its display in the new Collections Gallery in Burlington Gardens next year.   I had never seen it hanging high in the ante-chapel at Magdalen, where it looks much more convincing than when lent to the Leonardo exhibition at the National Gallery:  seen from below compels one to concentrate on the qualities of the original picture’s composition, rather than on the size of the feet in the copy.   Martin Kemp lectured about the history of the original, which has been a ruin practically from its beginning because of the experimentalism of Leonardo’s technique.   It was described by Kenneth Clark as ‘a tragic ruin’ in his great monograph published in 1939;  narrowly escaped bombing in 1943;  and was subjected to a meticulous 20-year restoration beginning in 1977 which began by describing the surface as ‘completely ruined’ and muted the colours to pastel.   Hence the importance of an early copy, which is assumed to have been done by one of Leonardo’s immediate followers and at least retains the full authority and expansive apostolic gestures which have been all but lost in the original:-


One thought on “The Last Supper

  1. It’s return to the RA will be a very considerable addition. The wonders of the new building may inadvertently result in coups, such as this and the display of the RA’s wonderful permanent Diploma Collection, not receiving the attention they merit. Let’s hope that that isn’t the case.

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