A Last Supper without Mary Magdalene

giottos-last-supper3 Giotto’s Last Supper–a fresco on the wall of the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua (c. 1300)


Giotto didn’t put much dynamism into the scene but he did manage some variation (and even some drama) with the swiveling heads and the faces of the Apostles. His beautiful colors make you keep going back for another look.

Which of the men at the table is Judas? They don’t seem to know either and eye each other with suspicion. Jesus is holding the boy St. John ( in his Da Vinci Code Dan Brown turned Leonardo’s St. John into Mary Magdalene).

Giotto has Jesus and the Apostles wearing togas but he forgot that the Romans reclined at table. Here is a sixth-century Last Supper painting which shows them  lying on their left elbows, the traditional posture for dining. That’s Judas sticking his hand in the bowl.


A sixth-century parchment called the Codex Rossano

Here is another version of the Last Supper on a tapestry they hang outside the royal chapel for solemn processions at San Illdefonso (La Granja), Spain. I will try to find the name of the painter of its cartoon (the painting that is used by the weavers as a model).

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8 Responses to A Last Supper without Mary Magdalene

  1. wrjones says:

    Reclining to eat? This is very interesting. It would be useful for someone like me so that I could go directly to naptime.

  2. cantueso says:

    100swallows! I just was at WordPress “Sculpture” and there is every sort of thing. It looks like a bazaar or a garage sale or a gipsy’s back yard.

    Your blog is not to be seen anywhere.

  3. ivdanu says:

    Hi, 100swallows! managed to visit after a long pause (some others coming, maybe…) Boy, did I miss your blog (and others!) I see you do shorter posts which is a good thing, I suppose…some journalism guru said, I think, that you have to make an article (post) as long as a person can read in the bathroom, no longer…vulgar and sad but even sader, true, probably…

    Anyway, my money are either on the ceruleum blue guy (no beard and mustache) or on the 5th from the left, profile, red guy…

    and bob, you unveiled romans motive for eating reclined!

  4. 100swallows says:

    Danu: I’m glad you’re back, partner! I wonder if you remember this latest post of mine, which is a re-post from way back, plus a minor addition. It was you who made the good observation that Giotto put the only gold halo around Christ’s head, the Apostles all got black ones. I don’t know what Judas is doing with one though.

  5. Ken Januski says:

    Speaking of halos it would be interesting to know their history. When did they first start being used? I’d always supposed that they were a full circle behind the head of the wearer. But if that were the case then we shouldn’t see the heads of any of the apostles facing away from us in the painting. We should just see their halos. As I look at it now I can’t help but think that they’re all looking into their halos. Of course I’m sure this wasn’t Giotto’s intent. But it is interesting nonetheless to speculate as to just how painters understood the physical representation of halos.

    In terms of colors, you’re right Swallows, they do bring you back for another look.

    • 100swallows says:

      Ken and Rich: Here’s the full scoop from Wikipedia:
      Remember Moses’ “horns” on the Michelangelo statue (and elsewhere).
      That card Benvenuto Cellini tried to make us readers believe that the Lord gave him a halo after his unjust stay in prison (I think that was the reason, I’ll have to look it up). “You have to see it in the morning at a certain time, though,” he said. “And you can’t see it on my head, only on the shadow of my head. There is a distinct glow, you can’t miss it.”

  6. Rich says:

    The four apostles turning their backs at us look as if working at some roundish black-screened laptops in front of them-;)

    Seriously: real interesting point with those black halos versus Christ’s golden one.
    A halo must be representing something immaterial, invisible to the eye. On the other hand in poetry the moon, for instance, has been described “glorifying the clouds with thy halo…”

  7. Rich says:

    Thanks, Swallows, for the link. I found it pretty exhaustive.

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