The painting was constructed to attract an audience, and then offer additional layers of interest the longer one looks, or at a subsequent viewing. These hidden messages can be discovered independently, but this section is included for those interested in their rationale.
Ancient & Religious Symbols
The light comes from stage left (as apposed to the classical stage right) - this references sinestra or a sinister omen.
The twilight of the day darkening to night symbolises Christ’s imminent transition
from life to death.
The 13 ceiling beams resonate with the groups size.
Jesus’ posture of outstretched arms heralds his crucifixion and his shadow also
references this and the notion of the Holy Ghost.
The spilt wine on the table similarly alludes to the unfolding events.
One disciple kneeling holds a discovered silver piece.
The use of sharp chiaroscuro signifies Christ being the light within darkness, as
does the single burning oil lamp.
The unguentarium containing ointment indicates that which will be used on Christ
Three dates on the table relate both to the Holy Trinity and the three cock crows.
The bowl and towel tells of Jesus washing the disciples feet prior to the supper, a
potent symbol of friendship.
Jesus’ garment is pure white, symbolic of purity and also the shroud he would be
dressed in at death (with a purple sash reserved for Emperors and Kings).
The presence of rope in the composition signals the death of Judas by hanging.
Modern Symbols Whilst the clothing and setting were deliberately designed to be nostalgic of 2000 years ago, subtle references to modernity were included:
The standardised bricks in the back ground places the picture from the
18th century onwards.
The visible turning of the chairs date from the early 20th century.
The indentations on the nose of the disciple stage left are from spectacle pad
bridges that were not widely used until the 1920’s (Handley, 2015).