The Last Supper, or Cenacolo, is one of the most profound and emotional depictions of all religious imagery. Within Christian ideology, this scene is the pinnacle of Jesus' compassion and selflessness in the presence of his followers. Understandably, this image was common to religious art created in Florence during the Renaissance era. However, many of these Last Suppers are hidden away in small chapels or unassuming churches. During the course of this seminar, we will explore some of these spaces, in the company of an art historian, and immerse ourselves in their stark poignancy and elaborate symbolism.
We will begin this thematic walk at the museum of San Marco, where we will get a refresher course in Renaissance art and religious imagery by observing the frescoes by Fra' Angelico which make up a large part of the museum. Almost forgotten on a wall close to the exit, we will find a Last Supper by the Florentine Domenico Ghirlandaio, from whom we will see an earlier and larger version later on. Ghirlandaio's skillful mastering of texture and emotion is clearly visible in this version. The scene has a quite serious overtone, as it supposedly represents the reaction of the apostles to Christ's declaration of having been betrayed.
We will then continue on to the former Benedictine convent of Sant'Apollonia, tucked inside an unassuming, bare façade. Within, we will contemplate the Last Supper as interpreted by Florentine artist Andrea del Castagno. Known for a strong sense of detail and naturalism, Castagno's fresco is strongly architectural in composition and includes classical details, such as colored marble and columns.
Finally, we will reach the splendid church of Ognissanti, whose Cenacolo is located in the refectory off the cloister. This large and majestic scene is more emotional, with the apostles engaged in active discussion amongst one another. Natural motifs such as the fruit trees, peacocks, birds and cherries strewn on the dining table bring a naturalism to the depiction.
If time allows and depending on the whims of the group, we might also pass by other Last Supper scenes, such as the Cenacolo di Foligno or the Cenacolo of Santo Spirito. During the course of this walk, by focusing on one particular theme, we will be witness to a sampling of styles and techniques born during the Renaissance era. In the company of an art historian, the understanding of religious iconography will be heightened, allowing for a more intense understanding of Renaissance art in general.