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Last Supper Symbolism Essay


Erwin Panofsky’s discourse of the linear perspectives are well known and are celebrated from within and outside the field of art history. Panofsky analysis of the linear perspective has been there for the past half-century to the British- Speaking nations mostly through two texts.; Early Netherlandish Paintings and Renaissance and Renascences. However, these works are based on the earlier work that he presented in 1925 and first published in German in 1927 titled; the Perspective as “symbolic form.” Panofsky presents the linear perspective as a notable and unique feature of Italian Renaissance art. To him, this uniqueness is the very versatile conceptualization of space and a fruitful and productive implication in both science and art. Panofsky came up with five visual mechanics, and they include; vanish point, screen, horizontal line, orthogonal, and transversal. This paper will analyze Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper using the five visual mechanisms developed by Irwin Panofsky.

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Horizontal Lines
Leonardo employed horizontal line in the image, Last Supper (1495). Looking at the painting closely, one can see the use of both parallel and horizontal lines. The regular and symmetric construction of the surfaces is very visible. The upper rim of the tapestry is very prominent, and this heavily reinforces the diagonal system. Therefore, one can outline these diagonals and come up with a rectangle that has its baseline on the same level with the feet of the apostles that are visible under the table. The X figure formed by the diagonal is the first noticeable basic feature. The second X is formed by the cruciform structure that is centrally located on Jesus’s head (Roark 182 ). The horizontal line of the cross passes through the heads of the apostles. The second armature basic plane is indicative of the decreasing and influent transfer of energies of the four angles inwards towards the central regions of the plane. Hence the horizontal lines (Middle line) forms a dynamical background whose forces comes from the periphery and annulled in the center.

Drawing an X at the bottom corners of the foreground illusion and the bottom ends of the vertical lines on the left and right sides, it crosses the lower end of the table cloth, and it is brought into sharp focus with a horizontal line across the edges. Another X at the lower corners of the back wall and the bottom ends bring into perspective the vertical lines of the forefront, and crosses the tabletops at the top edge and this is marked with a horizontal line at the crossing point. Marking another X starting from the bottom corners of the back wall towards the bottom ends of the central 3rd vertical lines perspective, it crosses the tabletop at its inside edges, and this accentuates the horizontal line at the crossing.

Varnishing Point Perspective
To solve the perspective challenges of the Last Supper, Leonardo Da Vinci used the proportional elements to the contemporary Albertian Vanishing point perspective, thereby, coining a proportional pyramidal scheme that by looks is accurate to most of the people standing in the room. The construction of the vanishing point is relatively simple to come up with since it is focused on the mind of Christ. Therefore, in the Last Supper’s image, the vanishing point is found just behind the head of Jesus while the focal point is accentuated with color forms, contrast, and structure. Leonardo disguised the upper and side edges of the perspective schemes by hiding them behind side columns and tympanum. The actions serve two purposes. The first one is that Last Supper is a depiction of a sacred environment of an ancient dining setting as per the viewpoint of the refectory, rather than the actual portion of the dining hall. Therefore, this served to protect the place from being perceived as a commonplace. Secondly, the broadening width of the illusionistic room served to hide the foreground portions of the vanishing point perspective which if it would have been depicted, would have emphasized the greatest proportional distortion of the inherent perspective grind. Hence, this room would have appeared more trapezoidal than it is seen now.

The vanishing points in Leonardo’s image served to indicate where he was to position the table. The estimates made on this image appears to suggest that Leonardo seriously considered the depth of the position of the table. It appears like he proportionally made estimates of three table edges that is the tablecloth bottom, inside edges, and the front edges- accentuated by making sequences of Xs drawn between the horizontal line in the perspective construction. For example, making a center X of the painting crosses the image’s vanishing points with the lines starting from the floor corners doing towards the inside bottom ends of the lunettes (Holder 54).

One of the approaches that Leonardo utilized in the Last Supper painting was to organize it into a proportional relationship in relation to its place in the refectory. To achieve this fit, Leonardo had to negotiate the measurements and proportional differences between the three basic forms of the dimensions of the painting (Holder 56). That is, he had to consider the painting measurements regarding the north wall, its natural perspective, and the pictorial screen. Therefore, Last Supper’s perspective screen on the surface grind includes its proportional geometry and the linear adjustments which are unrelated to the general perspective layout. Leonardo made reference to the surface grind of the perspective screen as the “pariete.” This does not mean a “wall” as the name suggest. Rather, he was referring to the “picture plane” or a kind of pane glass placed before the pictorial scene.

It is not a coincidence that the standing apostles measuring four braccia would appear as nearly three braccia within the Last Supper’s perspective. This phenomenon seems to have been calculated well by Leonardo so that he could make a correct estimate of the life-size of every individual and object painted on the perspective environment. To come up with this illusion, Leonardo made the objects and apostles 133% of their life-size equivalent. He wanted the painted individuals and objects to appear to mirror the normal objects in the dining hall. Therefore, the Last Supper’s screen makes everything in the painting to appear as if it is calculated according to the human scale (Holder 120). For instance, to get the approximate image of Simon while he is standing, one would have to subdivide the perspective height of his seated figure into three since only 75 of his forms of visible and then reply the resultant number by four. Hence, if Simon was painted standing, he would measure four braccia.

In the Last Supper, Leonardo created one of the most famous perspectives in history. The painting established how perpendiculars are supposed to be done converging on the right temple of Christ. The remaining perspective of Leonardo’s efforts to generate this perspective schemes are the nail holes and the radiating beams outwards from it, the lines in the wall marking the orthogonal. The presence of nail marks and incised lines revealed how Leonardo was making an effort at using the 15th-century fresco technique propagated by Masaccio in the painting, “The Holy Trinity” and “The Tribute Money” (Roark 181). In both paintings, Frescoes Masaccio fixed nails into the point in the wall where he intended the orthogonal to converge. In the Last Supper, Leonardo placed Jesus in the center as the focal point of convergence of the orthogonal. Consequently, he created a stable triangle that seems to suggest the calmness of Christ among the scared and distraught disciples. This is the moment that Christ revealed that one of them would betray him.

In the upper side of the painting, there an intriguing series of close nit perspective lines that were uncovered but did not correspond to Leonardo’s final plan. Etched into the painting’s surface with a sharp object is three groups of nine to ten transverse parallel lines starting from the dark gray band of the architrave and typical of intense bands of color they are revealed on the right side of the wall, but directed towards the figure of Christ (Roark 184). This is where the vanishing point of the entire painting composition falls. Additionally, there are other give groups of incisions, each containing ten to eleven lines across the whole wall horizontally and they emerge below the tapestries where Leonardo’s preparations show. Even though the direction of transverse lines and one vertical line emerged at the lower left, their direction does not correspond to the rest of Leonardo’s plan. However, they nevertheless suggest a sketch of a design from the base.

Works Cited
Holder, R. Ward. The Westminster Handbook to Theologies of The Reformation. Louisville, Ky.:Westminster John Knox Press, 2010. Print.
Roark, Rhys W. “Panofsky: Linear Perspective and Perspectives of Modernity.” Renaissance? Perceptions of Continuity and Discontinuity in Europe, c.1300- c.1550 181-206. Web. 28 Apr. 2019.

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