How An Italian Painter Hijacked the Jewish Passover Meal

How An Italian Painter Hijacked the Jewish Passover Meal

This is part 1 of a 4 part series.

One of the most well-known and widely recognized religious paintings is Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. His work of art has captivated the minds and hearts of Christians for centuries. Da Vinci devoted three years of his life (from 1495-98) to this masterpiece during the Italian Renaissance period. It is intended to depict the Last Supper, particularly the moment after Jesus announced that one of the Twelve would betray Him (John 13:21). It displays Jesus in the middle of the table, flanked on both sides by His twelve apostles. James is immediately on His right; John is immediately on His left. Judas is seated next to John. The work has been scrutinized by everyone from pastors to artists and mathematicians for its symbolism, theological insights, and psychological complexity. In May of 1999, an effort was made to restore the painting to its original glory after being damaged by exposure over the years of being displayed, and it was completed beautifully. The Last Supper remains one of the most important paintings of the Renaissance and, perhaps, human history.

As a child, I can still remember gazing at the large picture hanging in the living room of my grandmother’s home. It is a painting many of us have grown to love. However, what it is that we love is a painting, not something that contains any kind of factual truth. Indeed, The Last Supper is perhaps as “factual” as The Da Vinci Code. Da Vinci was a Roman artist and mathematician, not a biblical theologian. He used his talent to earn a living, not preach the gospel. We cannot fault him for painting certain elements of the final meal inaccurately. What we need to be careful of, though, is that popular depictions of biblical accounts or Scriptural truths do not color our perception of the way that things truly transpired.

Let’s revisit the events of the day of the Last Supper. The disciples knew that they would need to find a place to eat the traditional Passover meal, but didn’t know what kind of plan Jesus had in mind. So they asked Him: “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” And he [Jesus] sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us” (Mark 14:12-15).

Check back next week for part 2.

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Robby Gallaty is the Senior Pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, TN. He was radically saved out of a life of drug addiction on November 12, 2002. In 2008, he began Replicate Ministries to equip and train men and women to be disciples who make disciples. He is also the author of Growing Up: How to Be a Disciple Who Makes Disciples (2013), Firmly Planted: How to Cultivate a Faith Rooted in Christ (2015), Rediscovering Discipleship: Making Jesus’ Final Words Our First Work (2015), Foundations: A 260-Day Bible Reading Plan for Busy Believers (2015), and The Forgotten Jesus: How Western Christians Should Follow an Eastern Rabbi (2017).
  • Cyril Millett

    Thank you for pointing out these anachronisms in Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper. Like you, I have enjoyed the painting over the years and did not notice the daytime error among your other points. As a non-theologian Da Vinci was not paying attention to the details as he earned his living. The key point in your article is that we need to be careful that popular depictions of biblical accounts or Scriptural truths do not color our perception of the way that things truly transpired. I totally agree. I smiled and thought I need to take caution that I do not do the same thing. Then I looked at the pictures used in conjunction this article on the last supper and smiled at the use of bread without any type of raising agent. Being a Passover meal (Matthew 26:17) would not the bread supplied have been unleavened bread (Exodus 12:15-20)?

    I point this out because use of unleavened bread signifies the fact that the Hebrews had no time to let their bread rise as they made a hurried escape from
    Egypt. More importantly, I believe the absence of leaven (i.e. yeast) signifies the absence of fermentation which can only take place with death and decay
    which is a result of sin. Most importantly, I believe unleavened bread is a type of Jesus, the Bread of Life (John 6:35). Jesus, who was and is without sin
    is our Bread of Life.

    The painting of the Last Supper and some pictures of leavened bread with the cup try to help us reflect on the final scenes of our Saviour’s life on earth and point the matchless sacrifice He paid for redemption. Identifying the anachronisms helps us to be aware that we must pay attention to the details of Christ’s ministry and surrender to the Truth so that He can save us. Truth saves (John 14:6)!

    Thank you for getting this conversation going. What are your thoughts on this perceived anachronism on your pages?