the last suppers in florence, italy

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  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 refectory.
"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, XXVI, 21-24).
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 grace".
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 regained.

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. Ghirlandaio (1476).
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.
The convent 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.
Florence, 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).


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