Ghirlandaio and the Last Supper  (Ognissanti II)

Ognissanti        Zoom in      Interior       Aerial

Ognissanti facade Florence
photos: Sailko; zoom: Lucarelli; interior: dvdbramhall; aerial: Putneypics

To the left of the church is the entrance to the cloister courtyard with the refectory. In the same year, 1480, when the construction of the refectory is completed, Ghirlandaio paints his Last Supper. The year, MCCCCLXXX, is written in the wooden border of the platform at the feet of Judas in front of the table.

Monogram “OmmeS SanCtl.:OSSC      Vase of flowers

The monogram of “OmmeS SanCtl.:OSSC” (all saints or ognissanti), of the monastery community, is depicted three times in the fresco. Twice on the sides, right and left of the bench, and also on the vase of flowers.

The courtyard of the cloister of Ognissanti       Entrance to the cenacolo

courtyard  cloister  Ognissanti  Florence

Ghirlandaio cleverly utilizes the existing architecture. It is difficult for the viewer to distinguish between reality and what is painted. For instance, the middle large console and the two small ones in the corners support the vaults, while the other two are painted. The cross vaults are mirrored in the painted version. The eastern wall of the refectory seems to dissolve completely, making way for a dining hall with open arcades offering a view of a garden. The two windows in the hall (one later bricked up) are depicted in the fresco. In the mural, more light enters through the left window than the right. The right window in the refectory also receives less light due to the adjacent and protruding roof of the monastery.

Ghirlandaio ‘Last Supper’ 1480      Zoom in

Ghirlandaio 'Last Supper' Ognissanti

Ghirlandaio does not paint the usual scenes of the Last Supper as Andrea del Castagno did thirty-three years earlier in the dining hall of Sant’Apollonia. Above Castagno’s Last Supper, the crucifixion was painted in the center, with the entombment and resurrection depicted on the right and left (read more about Castagno’s Last Supper? click here).

Andrea del Castagno ‘Last Supper and Crucifixion’      Last Supper

Andrea del Castagno 'Last Supper and Crucifixion'   
Domenico Ghirlandaio Self-Portrait   

Ghirlandaio Self-Portrait   

Four years earlier, in 1476, Ghirlandaio had also painted a Last Supper in Passignano. In the lunettes, the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise and Cain killing Abel were already depicted. By depicting the first sins of humanity, the necessity of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross becomes apparent. The institution of the Eucharist during the Last Supper refers to this sacrifice as written in Mark 14:22-26. Thus, through living as a good Christian, humanity can return to heaven.

Ghirlandaio ‘Last Supper’ 1476 (Badia di Passignano)

Ghirlandaio 'Last Supper'  1476 (Badia di Passignano)
photo: Sailko

Why is there only a Last Supper painted in the Ognissanti and not a crucifixion? Probably because the shape of the eastern wall in the dining hall did not allow it. After the mid-fifteenth century, refectories not only became lower but also received vaults, which kept the space wide but reduced its height. In his Last Supper, Ghirlandaio depicts the moment when Christ says the following:

Ghirlandaio 'Last Supper'  detail: Christ and John Ognissanti

Christ and John

‘When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake. Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake. He then lying on Jesus’ breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it? Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him. For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor.’ John 13:21-29

In the three other Gospels (Luke 22:7-23, Matthew 26:20-30, and Mark 14:17-25), there is also mention of the institution of the Eucharist. In Florence, it was often depicted that the announcement of the betrayal and the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper happened simultaneously. Christ then makes a blessing gesture. Mark describes this as follows: “And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.” Mark 14:22-24

Judas Iscariot

The glass drinking cups with wine and the bread are on the table. This is also depicted by Taddeo Gaddi in the refectory of the Franciscans in the Santa Croce monastery in the year 1360. The blessing gesture during the institution of the Eucharist and the betrayal are also visible in Castagno’s work. In Taddeo Gaddi’s painting, Judas is about to take bread from the bowl, while in Castagno’s, the traitor holds a piece of bread in his right hand. Ghirlandaio, in his Last Supper at Passignano, clearly portrays Judas’s betrayal by painting his money pouch and the institution of the Eucharist with Christ’s blessing gesture. However, in the Ognissanti, there is no bowl of bread, no piece of bread in Judas’s hand. Instead, there is bread and carafes of wine, but white wine, and as a sign of betrayal, Judas holds the money pouch in his left hand.

Ghirlandaio 'Last Supper' detail: Judas Iscariot Ognissanti
photo: Sailko and glass: dvdbramhall
Ghirlandaio 'Last Supper' detail: Peter Ognissanti

Peter       Sinopia

From the postures, gazes, and hands of the apostles, it is clear that Christ has just announced the betrayal. Peter, with a grim expression, holds a knife in his right hand and points to Christ with his other hand, seemingly asking if it is Judas who has betrayed the Lord.

Judas, it seems, is not impressed. The apostle to the left near the corner of the table, likely Philip, points with his hand to the center of the table, asking his neighbor on the right what he thinks about what Christ has just said. However, his neighbor interrupts him by grabbing Philip’s forearm.

Ghirlandaio ‘Last Supper’ 1480      Zoom out

Ghirlandaio 'Last Supper' detail: Two Apostles Ognissanti

He seems to be calming him down, but he continues to look intently at Judas. The apostle in the green garment leans his right hand on the table and leans forward to get a better view of what is happening between Judas and Peter. Christ’s face is a discordant element in the whole scene; his gaze is directed upward at an angle. It remains unclear what he is looking at.

Ghirlandaio 'Last Supper' detail: Apostle Ognissanti

Apostle         Sinopia

In 1966, before the major flooding, the fresco was removed from the wall using the strappo method. This revealed the sinopia on the arriccio, the first layer of lime. During the restoration, it became clear that the face and right hand of Christ are not original, but date back to the seventeenth century. This also applies to the lower painted marble balustrade. In the sinopia, Christ looks at John the Baptist while not noticing the events at the table. In other places, such as with the two figures on the left, the fresco is more dramatic than the sinopia. The apostle all the way to the left only raises his hand, while the apostle next to him keeps his folded hands on the table. The third figure on the left in the underdrawing clasps his hands together in prayer.

Ghirlandaio ‘Last Supper’ 1480         Sinopia

Ghirlandaio 'Last Supper'  Ognissanti

In the painting, he holds his right hand on the table as if he wants to rise and leans forward. Peter’s gesture in the sinopia is also more restrained: he holds his left hand under his chin. Just like in Castagno’s Last Supper, in the underdrawing of Judas, a small piece of bread is still visible in his right hand. In the mural, this disappears completely. The postures of Peter and Judas are mirrored in the sinopia.

This sinopia (ognissanti) was later also used for the dining hall in the monastery of San Marco. The result shows that the work was not executed by Ghirlandaio himself, but by his assistants. The perfectly symmetrical distribution of the cherries on the table looks artificial. Also, the individual apostles are less convincing than the figures that Domenico himself painted in the Ognissanti.

Ghirlandaio ‘Last Supper’ c. 1486 San Marco

Ghirlandaio 'Last Supper' San Marco
photo: Steven Zucker

In the refectories of Santa Croce (Taddeo Gaddi 1360), Santo Spirito (Orcagna 1365), and Sant’Apollonia (Andrea del Castagno 1444), above the Last Supper, images of, among others, the Crucifixion are visible. This places the Supper in the context of Christ sacrificing his son for humanity. For contemporaries, this was easily understandable. However, in the Ognissanti, due to space constraints, as mentioned earlier,

The Garden San Marco       Zoom out San Marco

Ghirlandaio 'Last Supper'  detiail: Gardens San Marco
photos: Steven Zucker

Domenico Ghirlandaio paints only the Supper with a garden in the background. Yet, there are still various allusions here that refer to the sacrifice on the cross.

Ghirlandaio 'Last Supper' detail: Carafes Ognissanti


The blessing hand of Christ, combined with the bread and wine on the table, was widely known as a reference to the sacrifice that Christ made for humanity. At first glance, there appear to be only twelve apostles and Christ dining at a table. The table is set with a cloth that seems to have just come out of the linen closet judging by the folds. On the table, we see carafes of water and wine, glasses, breadboards, slices of lamb, cherries, two apricots, two oranges, and on the far left, a small head of lettuce.

The cherries allude to the drops of blood, while the oranges were known as fruits from paradise. Through this combination of fruits, a connection is made with the suffering of Christ, which made eternal life possible again, but now in heaven. In the side windows, a dove and a peacock are painted. The dove refers to the Lord with his joyful message. Peacock meat was believed never to spoil. Therefore, the peacock became a symbol of immortality.

The Gardens San Marco

Through the open arches, you can almost hear the birds and smell the fruit. The trees are meticulously painted. The pomegranates on the tree are about to burst open, there are large lemons, oranges, and dates hanging from the palm. Some of this fruit must have ended up on the table even though we do not see a cherry tree.

A hawk attacks a duck               

In the sky, things are less peaceful than at the table. In the upper right lunette, a hawk attacks a duck while a quail attacks a sparrow hawk. Quails were known to sacrifice themselves to protect their young. This is a clear reference to Christ sending his son to earth to die on the cross.

Fourteen years after Domenico Ghirlandaio completed his Last Supper in the Ognissanti, Leonardo da Vinci began his Last Supper in the Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. Ghirlandaio divided the twelve figures behind the table into a central group of five with Judas sitting in front of the table and the other apostles in four groups of two. Strong variation has been applied between the groups of apostles, creating a lively composition. Through gestures, gazes, and postures of the apostles, the eye quickly moves towards the center of the table. After all, this is where the central themes unfold: the announcement of the betrayal and the institution of the Eucharist. It is quite possible that Leonardo da Vinci was inspired by Ghirlandaio’s work. He also uses groups of three and depicts the apostles’ reactions to the announcement of the betrayal. In Leonardo’s work as well, the eye is quickly drawn to the center.

Leonardo da Vinci ‘Last Supper’ 1495 -1498′

Leonardo da Vinci 'Last Supper'

However, entirely new is that Judas is seated behind the table among the others. Yet, he is immediately recognizable because he is completely isolated. He is the only one who has no contact with the other apostles. For the art historian Jacob Burckhardt, Ghirlandaio’s work was the best of the fifteenth century, were it not for the fact that Leonardo had completed his Last Supper two years before the beginning of the sixteenth century.

Continuation Florence day 6: Ghirlandaio and the Vespucci Chapel (Ognissanti III)