Das letzte Abendmahl – Keyvisual

The Last Supper

The Last Supper is the only surviving wall painting by the universal genius Leonardo da Vinci. It was completed around 1498 and shows the scene in which Jesus announces to his disciples that one of them will betray him. The painting is located in the former dining room of the monks of the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.

When the hour had come, he sat down at table with the apostles. And he said to them: With great longing I have longed to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering. For I say to you: I will not eat it again until it finds its fulfillment in the kingdom of God. And he took a cup, and said the prayer of thanksgiving, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I say unto you, From henceforth I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God come. And he took bread, and said the prayer of thanksgiving, and brake it, and gave it to them, saying, This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me! Likewise, after the meal, he took the cup and said, "This cup is the New Covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But behold, the hand of him who delivers me up is with me at the table. True, the Son of Man must go the way that is appointed for him. But woe to the man through whom he is delivered up! Then one asked another which of them it was that would do this.

Gospel of Luke Chapter 22, verse 14-23


The common explanations for the painting mostly focus on the group of people in the foreground. However, Leonardo emphasized the background of the figure groups through geometric symbolism, without which the work cannot be explained. In this context, it must be mentioned that Leonardo, unusually for his designs, depicts the figures within an architectural framework. Apart from the Mona Lisa, who is still visibly sitting in a loggia, Leonardo's figures are usually set against a black background or in a landscape. Among all of Leonardo's authentic and unquestionably genuine paintings, only in "The Last Supper" does he depict an architectural space in the background. With a width of approximately 9 meters, it is by far Leonardo's largest painting.


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Das letzte Abendmahl mit umgebender Architektur – Leonardo da Vinci
Das letzte Abendmahl mit umgebender Architektur – Leonardo da Vinci

Those who are not mathematicians may not read my principles

Leonardo da Vinci, from "Book on Painting", in reference to the legendary inscription at the entrance of Plato's Academy "Without knowledge of geometry no one shall enter"
um 1483 122 × 199 cm Felsgrotten-
um 1490 39 × 53 cm Die Dame mit
dem Hermelin
um 1490 45 × 63 cm La Belle Ferroniere
um 1495-1498 9,04 × 4,22 m Das Abendmahl
ab 1501 130 × 168 cm Anna Selbdritt
ab 1503 53 × 77 cm Mona Lisa
ab 1513 56 × 73 cm Johannes
der Täufer
Dame mit dem Hermelin – Leonardo da Vinci
Johannes der Täufer – Leonardo da Vinci
Mona Lisa – Leonardo da Vinci
La Belle Ferroniere – Leonardo da Vinci
Felsgrottenmadonna – Leonardo da Vinci
Anna Selbdritt – Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci - Anbetung der Könige
Leonardo da Vinci - Der heilige Hieronymus
Tavola Doria - Leonardo da Vinci
Das letzte Abendmahl mit umgebender Architektur – Leonardo da Vinci

The 12 disciples of Jesus are arranged in two groups of four, each with three persons. Jesus is in the center of the picture. Head and hands span an equilateral triangle. Leonardo thus refers to mathematics and geometry. The number 12 results from = 2 sides (left and right) * 2 groups each * 3 persons per group. The equilateral triangle around Jesus is perceived as particularly harmonious.


The painting can be divided into 12 squares of equal size. It laid out in the aspect ratio 4:3. It is often overlooked that the three lunettes above the painting also belong to the work (yellow area). They show the coats of arms of the family of the commissioning Duke of Milan. The architecture of the pictorial space divides the work horizontally into three equal sections (mouseover)


The top three bezels are laid out in a 2:3 ratio (black and white lines at the top). Seven units of equal size are created. The vanishing point of the perspective lines is in the right temple of Jesus, not in the eye as is often claimed (yellow lines). At this point there is still the trace of a nail that Leonardo used to stretch the threads. The perspective lines of the windows are the only ones that are not axisymmetrical (orange lines). Their angle is 15° and 4°, Leonardo was born on 04/15. The lower perspective lines divide the bottom of the image into seven equal sections (black and white lines). Mouseover makes it easier to see the origins of the perspective lines. The lower door was retracted in 1652, destroying the painting in parts. As a result, two of the six ornamental lines at the bottom are no longer visible, but they are known from early copies.


The reconstruction of the image space is shown. The room is twice as long as it is wide. The windows of the back wall are divided into two squares by the horizon line. The door is divided by the horizon according to the height in the golden section. On the ceiling there are wooden beams that form 72 squares. This alludes to the sending of the 72 disciples by Jesus (lk 10:1). They are arranged in twelve times six rows.


Leonardo also paid attention to harmonious proportions when designing the side walls. The rows of windows on the left side are higher than on the right. The prominent dark areas are wall hangings. Their upper edge is twice as far from the upper edge of the windows on the right side as on the left side (black and white tiles). The lower edges of the windows are hidden by the figures, but with regard to the windows of the back wall it can be assumed that they also have a square as their basic shape (yellow frames). The height of the wall hangings can also be inferred from the steady pattern of the four-part division.
The tablecloth is also divided into four parts. It is horizontally divided by 16 folds (black and white tiles). The distance between the folds corresponds almost exactly to the height of the tablecloth. The width of the tablecloth corresponds to four distances between the folds. The tablecloth can thus also be seen as 16 cubes in four rows, one behind the other.
All in all, the impression is created that Leonardo wants to emphasize the three-dimensional tablecloth from the vertically four-part rows of windows (1D) over the two-dimensional wall surfaces. If the squares of the window rows (4*6), the four-divided blue surfaces of the side walls (4*8) and the cubes of the tablecloth are added, the result is again 72.


The schematic reconstruction of the image space.


Leonardo's placing Jesus at the door alludes to a parable in the New Testament, "I am the door. If anyone enters through me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture." (John 10:9)
In addition, there are other geometric connections. If the round arch is executed above the door, the center is located in the vanishing point (yellow point). This circle is exactly tangent to the left and right windows, as well as the lower edge of the door (yellow circle). It also divides the wall behind it into three equal parts in height (white lines).
The outer frame of the door is laid out in the aspect ratio of 3:4 and is divided according to the height in the golden section. The inner frame of the door is a golden rectangle, i.e. width and height are in the ratio of the golden section. In addition, the horizon line divides the inner frame of the golden rectangle into three parts of equal height (white vertical line). The geometric construction is already exceptionally artistic here.


Leonardo's universal spirit is particularly clear here. The upper edge of the door divides the wall behind it exactly halfway up (middle white horizontal). The three-part height of the inner door frame can be mirrored upward along the white horizontal. The height of the wall behind is now divided by a total of six lines of equal length (black and white dots). Between the horizontal mirror axis and the upper end of the decorative arch, the line can be divided exactly in the middle (blue dot) and one more time between the lower end of the decorative arch and the mirror axis (orange dot). In this way, nine points can be made out which, looking at the arc around the door (yellow outer circle), can be understood as radii around the vanishing point (black circles).
The impression of an astronomical sketch is created. This assumption is reinforced by the outer circle, which is missing about 10% to the left and right to the end of the wall (blue areas). Ten percent corresponds to the average deviation of the distance of the planets in our solar system from the distance farthest from the sun to the distance closest to the sun. The planetary orbits are therefore not circular, but elliptical (mouseover). Leonardo draws six circles. Until 1781, only the first six inner planets, visible to the naked eye, were known since ancient times, until the eight planets known today were discovered thanks to more powerful telescopes.


The astronomical sketch from VII can be extended downward by lowering the bottom to reveal the lower ends of the circles hidden in VII. Surprisingly, this results in exact overlaps of the two planes in the bottom area (blue and yellow line at the bottom). If the room is divided into four equal sections according to depth - there are four distinctive wall hangings per side wall - it is noticeable that the two partially concealed circles from VII rest exactly on the sections of the four-part floor (lower edge of the blue and yellow circles). However, two of these lines are not occupied.
For this purpose, two more circles can be usefully added. A first one directly in the foreground. Its lower edge is defined by the division of the ground into quarters. The upper edge of the circle borders exactly on the line of the center of the image space (yellow line above). The lower edge of another circle is also defined here by the division of the ground into quarters (lower orange point). The radius of this circle is confirmed by a second point, already known from I. A strange shape on the left above the door, which is also repeated in the lower right foreground of the painting. That this point has been chosen with care can be seen by connecting the points of the 5th, 6th and 7th ring (mouseover). A triangle with the interior angles of 108°, 54° and 18° is created. The numbers are initially harmonic: 108°:2 = 54° and 54°:3 = 18°. At the same time, all three angles are related to the regular 5-corner. Leonardo thus constructed eight circles in a masterly manner. This is all the more remarkable because this connects different dimensions (1D, 2D and 3D).


If the floor was lowered, the ceiling could be raised as well. If it is raised by the height of the tablecloth, the half side walls and the back wall change their aspect ratio to a harmonious 4:3 (blue and yellow areas). The side walls as a whole are now 3:8 high, Fibonacci numbers and thus close to the golden ratio (orange lines). All walls of the room are now in a harmonic measure. The back wall also has the same aspect ratio as the painting itself. Leonardo worked on exactly two murals in total. In addition to The Last Supper at the Battle of Anghiari. This work was also designed to be 4:3 and was intended to be just as huge as the Last Supper. If the form of the decoration of the side walls is taken into account, the impression of a gallery with free wall space is created, especially by the wall hangings. If Leonardo constructed the back wall to fit the Last Supper, the thought is obvious to fit in his other undoubtedly genuine paintings as well. If one arranges these according to the date of creation, it is noticeable that the Last Supper is also chronologically the central work. Moreover, a pattern emerges in the proportions. One large work was followed by two smaller ones. All paintings are shown in their original size ratio, starting with the Last Supper as the largest work. To the left and right of the Last Supper, a total of six paintings are shown. Two unfinished works do not yet fit into the picture, St. Jerome and the Adoration of the Magi (mouseover). The Battle of Anghiari was probably bricked up unfinished and has since been lost. However, a study has been preserved.


The grand finale, Coming Soon


Santa Maria delle Grazie

The Last Supper is located in the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. The church is just a few hundred meters from Castello Sforzesco, the former stronghold of the Milanese ruling family, the Sforza. Ludovico Sforza's father, Francesco, commissioned the original construction of the church and adjacent monastery. His son Ludovico, only two years after its completion, ordered the demolition of significant portions of the church around the altar and commissioned Donato Bramante, the future architect of St. Peter's Basilica, to construct a monumental central building above the altar. Ludovico Sforza planned to use the church as a future burial place for the Sforza family.

The paintings in the dining room

In 1494, two years after the start of construction work on the new dome of the church, Leonardo began painting the Last Supper in the dining room of the directly adjacent monastery. Also in the dining room, on the opposite side of the Last Supper, there is a painting of the Crucifixion scene made at the same time.

Robbery, foreign use and near destruction

Since the painting was painted directly on the church walls (and thus immovable), the history of the painting is closely connected with the history of Milan.

  • When Milan was conquered by the French in 1499, shortly after the completion of the Last Supper, the French king planned to take the painting and the wall to France. Because of the risks for the painting, the plan was abandoned
  • When Napoleon Bonaparte, still a French general at the time, led the French Revolutionary troops to Italy in 1796, his soldiers used the monastery's dining room as a stable for their horses upon their arrival
  • During World War II, downtown Milan was bombed, with Santa Maria delle Grazie severely damaged in 1943. Leonardo's Last Supper narrowly escaped complete destruction in the process
[Translate to english:] Santa Maria delle Grazie nach dem Bombenangriff von 1943, vom Klostergarten aus gesehen. Im rechten Bildhintergrund ist das dreieckige Dach des Haupteingangs gut zu erkennen.
Am rechten unteren Bildrand das Refektorium:
Die Decke und eine der Seitenwände sind eingestürzt. Montorfanos Kreuzigungsgemälde auf der gegenüberliegenden Seite des Abendmahls befindet sich unter freiem Himmel (rechter Bildrand)

Detail views

Leonardo's Last Supper painting is being restored throughout. It is estimated that today only 20 percent of the original color pigments remain from Leonardo's time. Since it is possible that the ongoing decay of the painting cannot be stopped, it was decided to digitize the current state of the painting and thus preserve it for posterity. The work was carried out by Haltadefinizione, a company specializing in high-resolution digitization, and allows a close look down to the millimeter level. The digitized copy, which was originally free to view, unfortunately now has watermarks, but these can be removed by paying a fee. The museum responsible hopes that this will reduce the number of visitors, as the stream of visitors disturbs the room climate on the one hand, and on the other, the air and dust particles introduced have a damaging effect on the work.

High-resolution version on the Haltadefinizione website

Contemporary copies

After its completion, the painting quickly gained world fame. When the French king saw it, he is said to have ordered plans to be drawn up for its removal to France. But the project failed due to the structural conditions, because it would probably have been destroyed in the process. The Last Supper is the first painting from Leonardo's workshop that was copied several times and sold at high prices due to the great demand by his students. Although the copies are not true to the original, especially with regard to the depiction of the architecture, they allow conclusions to be drawn about the original condition of the painting. For example, floral patterns can be seen on the large wall curtains, and the position of Jesus' feet is also known as a result, as well as the number of decorative lines on the floor.

Das Abendmahl – Leonardo da Vinci
The original painting of Leonardo without the overlying bezels
The Last Supper (unfortunately in a poor photo quality), mural, Andrea Solari (?), Tongerlo Abbey, Belgium.
The most faithful copy of Leonardo's painting is also about the same size and was probably painted by Leonardo's most important student, Andrea Solari.
The most important similarities are the different heights of the windows on the left and right sides, as well as the number of decorative lines on the floor
The Last Supper, Gianpietrino (actually Giovanni Pietro Rizzoli), Royal Academy of Arts, London.Gianpietrino was a pupil of Leonardo and had collaborated on the original painting. The copy, much reduced in height, rather emphasizes the group of figures and was sold to England
The Last Supper, Marco d'Oggiono, Chateau d'Ecouen near Paris, FranceMarco d'Oggiono was a student of Leonardo and had collaborated on the original painting.In this version, the interior architecture has been greatly altered, including the fact that the door crown is now triangular and there are numerous columns, but they do not reach the ceiling. This creates a conspicuous space towards the top. The walls are otherwise bare, as the flower-patterned wall curtains of the original are missing. Also missing are the decorative lines on the floor

Conclusion about the contemporary copies

The copies from Leonardo's workshop seem to follow a concept, for their changes from the original are not arbitrary.

  • Leonardo's most talented pupil Andrea Solari made an exact copy as far as possible
  • Gianpietrino's copy, minimized in height, emphasizes the group of figures and reduces the significance of the architecture shown to the background of the picture
  • Marco d'Oggiono's copy, on the other hand, stands out because it emphasizes the architecture in the painting by deviating greatly from that of the original

It must be noted that such changes could not be made without consulting Leonardo himself, who, as the head of his artist's workshop, instructed his students to make a copy. In this way, it becomes clear once again that a division of the painting into two parts seems to have been intended. On the one hand, the painting shows a group of figures in the foreground, which most viewers recognize as the actual content of the picture. On the other hand, the copies authorized by Leonardo give rise to the assumption that he wanted to have attention drawn to the picture's background on a second level. The complex geometric relationships in the area confirm this assumption. In this respect, The Last Supper is Leonardo's most artistic painting.

The severe deterioration of the painting

When considering Leonardo's version of the Last Supper, the severe deterioration of the painting must be taken into account. Unlike his other paintings, which were many times smaller, Leonardo did not paint the painting on a wooden panel, but directly on the wall plaster of an interior in a church. Since Leonardo could only paint with oil paints in order to be able to depict the fine shading and color transitions, but these did not adhere well to the substrate and therefore fell off over time, the painting was soon very badly damaged. Thus, 20 years after its creation, contemporaries reported that the painting was already falling apart (de Beatis), and 50 years later the painting was already "stained" (Vasari).

Is the Lord's Supper a heretical work?

It almost seems as if Leonardo, who did a lot of research on the durability of paintings, did not want to fulfill this claim to eternity, especially in his largest work by far in terms of area and in a depiction of Jesus, of all things. This almost heretical intention is reinforced after an analysis of the figural composition in his other two large-scale paintings, the Virgin of the rocks, painted earlier, and Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, painted afterwards. Both paintings seem to show the boy Jesus, but on closer inspection this attribution is no longer clear. At least the rock grotto Madonna was therefore considered by contemporaries to be so heretical that in the course of a court case lasting 25 years a second version had to be made, which made the identification of the two boys clearer for believing Christians.

Leonardo's other wall painting

It is striking that Leonardo executed only two massive wall paintings. In addition to the approximately 9-meter-wide "The Last Supper," Leonardo painted the approximately 7-meter-wide painting depicting the historical Battle of Anghiari. This painting was not completed, probably because it was not possible to get the plaster dry enough to paint due to structural dampness. The painting is only known from contemporary documents and some studies today.

It is remarkable that both of Leonardo's wall paintings have themes of religion and war—the themes of the church and the nobility—and that both paintings had to decay or could not be painted in the first place due to the painting technique used. If Leonardo had used a different technique, such as the widely spread fresco painting at the time, the paintings would be preserved much better today, similar to Michelangelo's "The Last Judgment" or Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus."

In this context, it is important to mention that Leonardo was a citizen of the Republic of Florence. This was a peculiarity at the time because medieval society was believed to consist of only three social estates: nobility, church, and peasants (the social pyramid). With the rise of the bourgeoisie, to which Leonardo belonged, a new self-confident class emerged towards the end of the Middle Ages, which, with the American Declaration of Independence (1776) and the French Revolution (1789) thirteen years later, heralded the end of the traditional dominance of the nobility and the church in Europe.

The persons

The identification of the figures is by no means as straightforward as popular science literature claims. In the Gospels, only a few of the 12 Apostles are mentioned in detail or associated with specific actions. Only two individuals from the group on the right of Jesus are clearly identifiable.

The certainly identifiable persons

  • Jesus is clearly recognizable as the one who has just spoken the disconcerting words ("One of you will betray me," John 13:21)
  • Judas, who will betray Jesus, holds a money bag in his right hand, alluding to the 30 pieces of silver he will receive as payment. Judas was also the financial administrator of the group around Jesus (John 13:28)
  • The impulsive Peter holds a knife in his right hand. After the Last Supper, when Jesus is arrested, Peter will cut off an opponent's ear (John 18:10)
  • John is traditionally depicted at Jesus's side, often in a sleeping posture. This refers to the account of the Last Supper in the Gospel of John: "One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table close to Jesus" (John 13:23). Although the name of this disciple is not mentioned in the biblical text, in Christian iconography, this figure is traditionally equated with John
    A notable aspect of the portrayal is the feminine features given by Leonardo to this disciple. This alludes to the fact that the group around Jesus was also accompanied by women, including Mary of Magdala (Mary Magdalene), who witnessed his crucifixion and resurrection (Mark 15:47 and John 20:1)

The remaining persons

The remaining figures cannot be identified with certainty. They have no definite attributes, because the Bible provides too little (or no) further information about these apostles. Partly they are mentioned there only with names. In this respect, it is highly unserious to attempt to give names to the other figures in the painting. It must be emphasized, then, that any interpretation of the group of figures that implies a biblical meaning beyond the varied design must fail because of the poor source material in the Bible itself. Instead, Leonardo has varied the facial expressions and gestures of the figures in their reactions so that they depict the broadest possible spectrum of conceivable reactions to Jesus' words.

The play of hands

Worth mentioning is the rhythm of the hands, which run towards Jesus from the left as well as from the right side. At least on the left side they have a humorous function.

The index finger in Leonardo paintings

Leonardo introduced a new iconography to John the Baptist by associating him with an upward pointing index finger (to heaven, to God, or to Jesus) in his last painting, "John the Baptist".

John the Baptist is an ascetic prophet in the New Testament who foresaw the imminent appearance of Jesus Christ and later baptized him. He was partially revered by believers as the Messiah, but said of himself that he was not worthy to untie the bootstraps of the one who would come after him (Jesus). John the Baptist thus has a preparatory function. He is the patron saint of Florence, Leonardo's hometown.

The hands and the reference to the architecture of St. Peter's Basilica

Against the background of Leonardo's unique art of painting, it is often overlooked that in his time he was considered the best architect in the world. He was content with the intellectual design. This is because large buildings are often very lengthy projects that leave the executing architects less room for other pursuits. Moreover, architects are always dependent on potent financiers, on whom Leonardo could not (or would not) rely. Numerous sketches by Leonardo indicate that he was involved in the planning of the construction of St. Peter's Basilica. The design for the most beautiful of the famous Loire castles in France is also attributed to Leonardo, that for Chambord Castle.

Raffael – Schule von Athen
School of Athens, Raphael, 1511
Raphael was well acquainted with Leonardo and admired him.He painted him here as Plato (left of the two central figures).Plato is also depicted with his index finger pointing upward.The architecture in the background shows the partly idealized construction site of St. Peter's Basilica in its former state, with the dome still missing at that time
Das letzte Abendmahl mit umgebender Architektur – Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo's Last Supper interacting with the surrounding architecture of the dining room of the church of Santa Maria delle GrazieThe upward pointing index finger points also here to a dome vault, that of the dining room

Raphael's School of Athens is a mural located in the papal apartments in Rome (Raphael's Stanze). The architectural background depicts the partly idealized construction site of St. Peter's Basilica as it was at that time. The most distinctive architectural feature of St. Peter's Basilica is its dome. The dome of the ancient Pantheon in Rome was the largest in the world until 1436 when it was surpassed by the newly built Florence Cathedral. Leonardo, as a student of Verrocchio, was involved in the final stages of the construction. St. Peter's dome is about 1 meter smaller in diameter than the one in Florence. Dome structures were considered one of the most challenging architectural types due to the numerous difficulties associated with them, persisting into the 20th century. The dome in Florence held the title of the largest in the world for approximately 400 years until 1873.

St. Peter's Basilica was designed by Bramante, who can be seen in Raphael's School of Athens wearing red robes, leaning forward, in the right foreground. Two other contemporary artists, Michelangelo and Raphael himself, are also identifiable in the painting. All of them, except for the central figure of Plato (Leonardo), share the commonality of being architects involved in the construction of St. Peter's Basilica.

The pointing finger of Plato, the compositional significance of the background architecture, and Donato Bramante are the connecting elements between Leonardo's Last Supper and Raphael's School of Athens. In 1499, Bramante interrupted his work on the dome of Santa Maria delle Grazie, where the Last Supper is located, to go to Rome and start the construction of St. Peter's Basilica. Leonardo had completed the Last Supper in the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie the year before, after about three years of work. The raised finger in both Leonardo's Last Supper and Raphael's School of Athens most likely alludes to Leonardo's involvement in the design of St. Peter's Basilica. It is widely accepted in architectural history that Leonardo's architectural theoretical considerations prepared or strongly influenced Bramante's designs.

Mysticism of the Last Supper painting

Since Leonardo's Last Supper is the most famous depiction of Jesus today, and the mysteriousness of Leonardo's works is legendary, there are numerous hypotheses about a hidden message in the painting.

The table

coming soon

The chamber

coming soon



Website of the exhibiting museum: Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan

Frank Zöllner, Leonardo, Taschen (2019)

Martin Kemp, Leonardo, C.H. Beck (2008)

Charles Niccholl, Leonardo da Vinci: Die Biographie, Fischer (2019)

Johannes Itten, Bildanalysen, Ravensburger (1988)

Die Bibel, Einheitsübersetzung, Altes und Neues Testament, Pattloch Verlag (1992)

Euklid, Die Elemente, Verlag Europa Lehrmittel (2015)

Luca Pacioli, Divina Proportione, Die Lehre vom goldenen Schnitt, Forgotten Books (2018)

Stephen Hawking, Das Universum in der Nussschale, Hoffmann und Campe (2001)

Highly recommended

Marianne Schneider, Das große Leonardo Buch – Sein Leben und Werk in Zeugnissen, Selbstzeugnissen und Dokumenten, Schirmer/ Mosel (2019)

Leonardo da Vinci, Schriften zur Malerei und sämtliche Gemälde, Schirmer/ Mosel (2011)