Tintoretto was irregular. When he was good, he was one of the very best; but he wasn’t always good. Another painter said of him: “He was in many pictures equal to Titian, in others inferior to Tintoretto”.
He painted all over the place and any which way. He was always in a hurry. He bragged about not doing preparatory sketches for his works. Often he left features of his paintings unfinished. Many of his designs are cock-eyed. Are they the innovation of genius or plain blunders? Or maybe problems that he didn’t stick around to solve.
The Last Supper was a favorite theme of his. Here are two of his many versions.
The first is from the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, painted between 1578 and 1581.
The knot of Apostles in the center of the picture is irksome. Shouldn’t he have spread them out a bit? Christ sits at the far end of the table—a very daring place to put Him. But then St. Peter at this end seems to steal the show. And even allowing for the distortion of perspective, isn’t he gigantic? The table does not run parallel to the wall. It is set up diagonally in the room—an offense to nearly everyone’s sense of order and good arrangement. This would have bothered everyone from Leonardo to the maître.
The other Last Supper is from the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, in Venice, painted in about 1591.
The Upper Room is so crowded and stuffy you might want to leave it and duck outside for a breath of fresh air. Christ is somewhere in the crowd—you know Him by the halo but not by His place at the table. Wasn’t Tintoretto’s idea to repeat His pose in a bigger figure nearer the viewer an error? And wouldn’t it have been better to leave out those two big figures at the left that block the way around the table and also prevent the viewer from standing back to take in the scene from a comfortable distance? If you were a photographer at the banquet you would ask them to go and stand somewhere else.
As a curiosity, here is a sixth-century parchment illustration of the Last Supper, called the Codex Rossano.
It shows Jesus and the Apostles reclining at the table, the traditional posture for dining. That’s Judas sticking his hand in the bowl.