Special to The Standard
SCUGOG: On “Maundy Thursday”, April 13th, at 7:30 p.m., in the sanctuary of Port Perry United Church, there will be a live re-enactment of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting masterpiece, the Last Supper. Maundy Thursday recalls the night in which Jesus shared in the Passover meal, in the upper room with his twelve disciples. Later that night he was betrayed by one of them, and the next day, Good Friday, Jesus was publicly executed by the Romans, by crucifixion.
The name “Maundy Thursday” is derived from the first word of the Latin phrase, “Mandatum novum do vobis,” which means, “A new commandment I give to you,” and continues, “That you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34) This teaching was part of Jesus’ last supper discourse.
While, by no means the only artistic representation of this key event in the gospel story, Leonardo’s is by far the most famous. Indeed it is one of the best known of all paintings, perhaps second only to the Mona Lisa, also painted by Leonardo.
In 1494, already recognized at age 42 as a genius accomplished in many fields, Leonardo was commissioned by the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, to do a fresco on the theme of the last supper, for the refectory, the dining hall or cafeteria of the Dominican monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie, a favourite shrine of the Duke’s new young wife, Beatrice.
The fresco took three years, Leonardo’s working on and off, to complete, and is now over 500 years old. It occupies 14 x 30 feet of wall space.
It shows Jesus and the twelve disciples, seated along one side of a long table, at the moment when Jesus had spoken the words, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” Already, each of the disciples had begun to wonder which one of them could commit such an horrific act, and whether it might even be they themselves.
Leonardo’s painting of the last supper offers quite a story, both in its creation and in its subsequent history.
Leonardo was not good at finishing projects he had begun, even those for which he had received a commission. The prior, the head of the monastery, was aware of those bad work habits, and he took to nagging da Vinci whenever he saw the great painter standing staring at the wall. The story goes that the prior took the matter up with Leonardo’s patron, the Duke. The Duke was very much aware of what an unrivaled artist he had working for him, and raised the matter with Leonardo with great delicacy. At that point, Leonardo explained to the Duke, he had but two faces left to paint, that of Judas and that of Jesus.
As to Jesus, he was unwilling to look for a human model, for he doubted human imagination could conceive of the beauty and grace that properly belonged to the Son of God. But a model for the face of Judas was a problem more easily solved. Between them, Leonardo and the Duke decided the face of the tactless and unfortunate prior would serve as the model for the face of Judas!
Even without the benefit of the many preliminary sketches, which Leonardo prepared and are still preserved, we can make educated guesses at which figures represent which disciples. For example, we know that Judas served as the treasurer for the group, and the fourth disciple from the left is holding a money bag. One can see the dark and defiant look on his face. He has already made the bargain of betrayal.
The face of Jesus was deliberately never completed. That work must have been attempted by one of the several who tried to restore the work.
In the upcoming presentation, the thirteen actors remain absolutely still, in the pose depicted in the painting. One by one, each comes aout of their pose, to offer a short monologue on what is going through their mind: remembrances of the ministry of preaching and teaching and healing shared with Jesus, the compelling nature of their leader, and their own human frailty.
At the end of the presentation, the sacrament of holy communion will be celebrated, for those who wish to partake. There is no charge for admission to the presentation, and no offering will be received.
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