| Last Suppers in Florence, Italy
A Fascinating Tour Through the City in Search of Ancient Refectories
Florence, Cenacolo of San Salvi
The Last Supper: artistic ritual in the convent
"When evening came, he sat down with his twelve
disciples, and, while they were at table, he said: Believe me,
one of you is to betray me. They were full of sorrow, and began
to say, one after another, Lord, is it I? He answered, The man
who has put his hand into the dish with me will betray me. The
Son of Man goes on his way, as the scripture foretells of him;
but woe upon that man by whom the Son of Man is to be betrayed;
better for that man if he had never been born". (Matthew,
As soon as Christ reveals the tragic truth, the disciples, in a
state of agitation, begin to ask themselves who among them is the
traitor. Peter, the founder of the Church, is shocked and
horrified; John, the dearest one, stands leaning against the
Lord's chest; Judas, the antagonist, broods darkly.
The climax of Christ's earthly life, before the Institution of
Eucharist and his Sacrifice on the Cross, is the dramatic scene
of the Last Supper. This scene seemed particularly suitable for
the decoration of the great conventual refectories, especially in
Florence, with its ideal theme of meditation and prayer offered
to the monastic community united for the purpose of eating.
Throughout the 14th century, the scene of the Last Supper was
included in the grandiose cycles of frescoes which illustrated
the Life and the Passion of Christ. During the 15th century, with
invention of perspective, the Supper began to be represented
independently on an entire wall. The "squared cut",
already used by Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua and then
by Taddeo Gaddi in the Florentine Last Supper in Santa Croce, looks forward to
the strongly compressed cubic space bathed in light of Andrea del
Castagno's monumental Supper in Santa Apollonia. The frescoed
representations of the Last Supper by Domenico Ghirlandaio in
Florence and in the Abbey at Passignano, which just predate
Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper in Milan, are characterized by a
descriptive naturalism. Leonardo's exceptional masterpiece, on
the other hand, served to glorify and spread the Florentine
"fashion" in Northern Italy. In Florence,
Franciabigio's technique in his Cenacolo della Calza was highly
influenced by Leonardo, while the colour and light of an Umbrian
landscape characterize Perugino's Cenacolo di Foligno. In the
Last Supper at San Salvi, Andrea del Sarto surpasses the existing
tradition imparting to his painting a luminosity worthy of
Michelangelo and a psychological penetration that renders the
figures full of "magnitude, majesty and infinite
Following the 18th century supression of monastic orders, the
Cenacoli have become monuments of exceptional artistic value and
are today open to the public.
The greatest Florentine Last Suppers: a spirituality
The Cenacolo of Santa Croce.
The Last Supper by Taddeo Gaddi (c.1340). Above it are the Tree
of the Cross and other scenes. Fresco. Previously attribued to
Giotto, it is perhaps the first great representation of the
"Last Supper" in Florence.
Florence, Museo dell'Opera di Santa
Croce in the great hall of the 14th century ex-refectory.
The Cenacolo of Santo Spirito
A fragment of the Last Supper. Above it stands the scene of the
Crucifixion by A. Orcagna (c. 1370).
Florence, refectory of Santo
Spirito. Fondazione Romano.
The Cenacolo of Santa Apollonia.
Above this Last Supper is the Crucifixion, Deposition and
Resurrection by Andrea del Castagno (c. 1450).
Florence, Museo del Cenacolo di Sant'Apollonia,via XXVII Aprile,
1 (in the refectory of the convent of Sant' Apollonia).
The Cenacolo of the Badia at Passignano.
The first of the great representations of the Last Supper by D.
Florence, Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, Badia di Passignano.
"In the centre of the painting stand the two main actors of
the great drama: Judas, aware of his betrayal, with his stance,
his look, his hair in disorder, expresses his gloomy solitude;
Christ, with an expression of religious solemnity, looks towards
the table with his right hand raised as a sign of blessing and
seems almost comforted by the presence of John who, in that
moment, stands with his head resting against the Lord's
chest". (P.N. Vasaturo, 1989).
The Cenacolo of Ognissanti.
The Last Supper in the large refectory of the Ognissanti convent is by
Domenico Ghirlandaio (1480). The "sinopia" of the
fresco can also be seen.
Florence, Cenacolo del Ghirlandaio, Borgognissanti, 42.
The Cenacolo of San Marco.
This fresco by Domenico Ghirlandaio representing the Last Supper
(c. 1482) decorates the small refectory of the Domenican convent
of San Marco.
Florence, Museo di San Marco,
piazza San Marco, 1.
The Cenacolo of Fuligno.
In the refectory of the ex-convent of the Franciscan tertiares of
S. Onofrio, known as Fuligno, the artist Perugino painted his
Last Supper (c. 1495). This particular Last Supper is
characterized by a bright Umbrian background. The figures seem to
have been executed by the artist's assistants.
Florence, Conservatorio di Foligno, via Faenza, 42.
The Cenacolo della Calza.
were Franciabigio painted the whole back wall with a
representation of the Last Supper (l514) used to be called
S.Giovanni alla Porta di San Pier Gattolino. Its current name
derives from the hood worn by the monks.
Florence, Convento della Calza, Piazza della Calza, 6.
The Cenacolo of San Salvi.
In the old refectory of the Vallombrosan Abbey on the outskirts
of Florence, Andrea del Sarto painted the life-like Last Supper,
his most spectacular masterpiece and "one of the most
beautiful paintings in the world". The Last Supper was begun
in 1519 and was finished between 1526 and 1527.
Cenacolo di Andrea del Sarto, via San Salvi, 16.
"...And he painted it in so good a style that his work was
held to be, as it certainly is, the most smooth, the most
vivacious in colouring and drawing that he ever did, or rather
that anyone could do. For apart from all the rest, he gave such
infinite grace, grandeur, and majesty to all the figures that I
do not know how to praise his Last Supper without saying too
little, it being so fine that whoever sees it is stupefied. It is
no wonder that, because of its excellence, during the
devastations of the siege of Florence in the year 1529, it was
allowed to be left standing, while the soldiers and wrecking
squads, by command of those in charge, destroyed all the suburbs
around the city, and the monasteries, hospitals and all other
buildings. These men, let me say, having destroyed the church and
the campanile of San Salvi, and started to tear down part of the
convent, had reached the refectory containing the Last Supper
when the man who led them, seeing and perhaps having heard speak
of this marvellous painting, abandoned what they had embarked on
and would not let any more of the place be destroyed, putting
this off till they could not do otherwise". (Giorgio Vasari,
1568). See big picture...
"The same sense of awe also strikes the modern-day visitor
who, finding himself in the evocative atmosphere of the convent,
passes from the kitchen, with its enormous traditional stone
fireplace, to the room with an elegant lavabo carved by Benedetto
da Rovezzano, and finally enters into the huge refectory whose
back wall features the Last Supper, painted with all the vitality
of a theatrical show". (Serena Padovani, l986).