Thursday, April 06, 2023

Florentine Frescoes of the Last Supper

For obvious reasons, the Last Supper is a popular subject matter for the decorations of the refectories of religious houses, and many famous artists were commissioned to put their hand to the subject during the Italian Renaissance. Our Ambrosian writer Nicola de’ Grandi has kindly shared with us his pictures of such frescoes from four different houses in the city of Florence, the epicenter of the Renaissance. (The author of the most famous Last Supper of all, Leonardo di Ser Pietro, was from small town called Vinci about 20 miles to the west of Florence, and a citizen of the Florentine Republic, but his contribution to the subject is in Nicola’s native city, Milan.)

Sant’ Apollonia – Andrea del Castagno (di Bartolo), 1447
The monastery of St Apollonia, founded in 1339, was the largest and most important house of Benedictine nuns in Florence. Del Castagno’s work here is rightly admired for the richness of its decoration, and painstaking attention to even the smallest details.
To the left, we see a fresco of the Crucifixion (detached from its original location), also by del Castagno, and to the right, a “sinopia”, a kind of preparatory image used by fresco painters as a guideline for the finished work.
In the upper part, far less well preserved, we see (from left to right) the Resurrection, the Crucifixion, and the Deposition from the Cross.

San Marco – Dominico Bigordi, “il Ghirlandaio”, 1486
San Marco was the second Dominican house in Florence after Santa Maria Novella, founded on the property of a former monastery of the Silvestrine Benedictines at the behest of Cosimo de’ Medici in 1437. Under the patronage of the chief family of Florence, many important artists worked here, and the church boasted several painted by the great Fra Angelico. Ghirlandaio, one of the most prominent and successful painters in Florence in the later 15th century, also devotes a great deal of attention to the details, but mostly in the upper part; the room of the Last Supper is far less decorated than that of Del Castagno. The artistic focus is more on the colors of the robes of the human figures, which build the sense of space within them; this aspect of his style would have a great influence on the work of his student, Michelangelo.
San Salvi – Andrea del Sarto, 1526
San Salvi was the home of another branch of the Benedictines, the Vallumbrosians, founded by a Florentine nobleman, St John Gualbert, in the 11th century. The painter Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530) was of the same generation as Michelangelo and Raphael, and like them, more in the stylistic current known as the High Renaissance; followed the trend set by Ghirlandaio, the emphasis is all on the human form, and the decorative elements are reduced to a minimum.
Ognissanti – Dominico Bigordi, “il Ghirlandaio”, 1480
Ghirlandaio’s earlier Last Supper was done at the church of All Saints, the home of an order known as the Umiliati, and is very similar to his later work shown above. As you can see, the lighting makes for less than optimal photography.

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