Lent Course. Observing Lent through Art and Prayer.2023
“[This] wondrous painting is hanging above a door as if there is nowhere else to place it. But its dynamism tells me that there is no doubt that Christ’s announcement of the betrayal has been made. Although the Last Supper is a famous image in the history of art, we do not always look long enough to see which part of the Last Supper narrative is being enacted. And not all images of the Last Supper actually depict the moment when Christ says that one of his men will betray him. Essentially, the Last Supper marks two aspects the first, the giving of the communion and the second the devastating announcement. The moment when Christ says, ‘In truth… I tell you, one of you is going to betray me’. And the disciples look around, up, down, gaze, wonder, agitate all in disbelief. Some Last Supper images depict both aspects, some just one or the other. But one has to really look. Leonardo’s version is world famous. In his treatment, he shows the betrayal announcement reaction. Does that make his painting better than other versions because the moment of recognition and reaction is rendered?
Could it be that he does it almost too obviously and predictably? Just because the apostles are shown reacting does not mean to say that he treats the narrative in a more realistic fashion. After all, people react to bad or shocking news in different ways. In the gospel of John (13:26) it is asked, ‘Lord who is it? And Jesus says ‘It is the man to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish’. Here in Spencer’s version, we see Judas, his right hand poised to put in one of the bowls, while his head is sunk into his other hand resting on his face. It must be him, yet can we really know? Sometimes a tell-tale sign is that Judas is without a halo. Here though, none of them have a halo. They are simply dressed in white and all have thick black hair, smoothed down onto the shoulders. And the man next to Judas has a beard. In other versions, Judas is often shown with a beard. Between these two figures is both cast shadow and a charge of light. Spencer adds mystery to the scene which Leonardo doesn’t. Christ’s mouth is not open as if to speak. The apostles’ faces are barely visible, save for a few on the right. One is looking quizzically, as his right hand is raised to his chin. And here John, though bent into Christ’s body is awake. In other versions, he is often slumped asleep in Christ’s lap. See for example Ghirlandaio Last Supper. Although he is on Christ’s body to denote youthful adoration of his Master, in the Spencer he is wakeful. There is nothing somber, sleepy or serene about the image at all. The force of the announcement is felt physically. The apostles’ legs and feet are stretched out, their garments taught with the stretch. Even post Leonardo and the weighty legacy of that depiction, Spencer brings new energy to this well-known narrative. And to the left, in the brick layered interior, it is as if a gust of wind has blown angels in but not, it is the Apostles’ white robes lifted, their hands to, one side almost levitating, they are reacting with their bodies, as they turn slightly inwards. The physicality that Spencer uses to show one moment in Christ’s life is the quintessence of what is seen as his unconventional approach to depicting Christianity. And that physicality is a cry to the apostles to walk out the door and help change the world. As Spencer renders the event, the apostles will be energetic spring boards for action. But only when they have recovered from what they have heard.” https://theitinerantchurchgoer.wordpress.com/art-stanleyspencer-last-supper-and-cookham-2/
Poem Here is the source of every sacrament, The all-transforming presence of the Lord, Replenishing our every element Remaking us in his creative Word. For here the earth herself gives bread and wine, The air delights to bear his Spirit’s speech, The fire dances where the candles shine, The waters cleanse us with His gentle touch. And here He shows the full extent of love To us whose love is always incomplete, In vain we search the heavens high above, The God of love is kneeling at our feet. Though we betray Him, though it is the night. He meets us here and loves us into light. Maundy Thursday by Malcolm Guite (1957-)