The Last Supper: Changing Depictions

This article is the twelve of an ongoing series from EUROCLIO providing teachers with ideas and practical resources for teaching a range of topics in their classrooms. You can find a wealth of additional resources including units, source collections and eLearning activities on the Historiana website and you can read the other articles in the series here.

The Last Supper has long been a cornerstone of religious art, interpreted and put to use in a variety of ways by different artists at different points in time. The Renaissance period saw a resurgence in depictions of the Last Supper, including the most iconic depiction created by Da Vinci. Artists from different parts of Europe and different schools of art presented the moment in myriad ways. The fact that this common theme was so variously interpreted over time offers us a fascinating insight into the development of artistic styles and messages throughout the Renaissance period. The Historiana source collection entitled How depictions of The Last Supper changed during the Renaissance provides more than 20 examples of paintings, woodcuts, miniatures and frescoes representing the Last Supper for students to investigate.

Why include a study of changing depictions of the Last Supper in the classroom?

The changing depictions of the Last Supper would be a useful inclusion in the study of the Renaissance period as it takes an image likely familiar to students as a starting point and allows them to place that image in its historical context. Students will uncover the numerous depictions that
came before and after Da Vinci’s widely known work and gain a deeper appreciation of the evolution of artistic styles and choices about the aspects of the event that merited emphasis.

Furthermore, a study of this nature offers an excellent opportunity for students to engage in interdisciplinary learning. Coordination with their teachers in Creative Arts could allow students to combine their understandings in the disciplines of art and history to provide a well rounded interpretation of changes from various perspectives. There may even be scope for a creative output!

The Last Supper by Jacopo Tintoretto (1592-1594). This depiction by Tintoretto, oil on
canvas, was created for the Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. Painted a century after Leonardo’s Last Supper, it represents a bridge between the Late Renaissance and the early Baroque.

Teaching about changing depictions of the Last Supper The eLearning Activity, The Last Supper in Renaissance Art, offers ideas on the activities that could be used to promote student understanding of the evolution of representations of the Last Supper during this period. The activity first asks students to place a number of Renaissance depictions in chronological order. This also gives the students a chance to read through the detailed information provided alongside each source. Once complete, students are invited to comment on any patterns they see emerging in the ways in which artists interpret and portray the event.

With this overview in mind, students are then asked to analyse two artworks in greater depth. To support their analysis, they are asked specifically to annotate aspects such as:

 Colour and lighting
 Position of the figures
 Facial expressions
 Clothing
 Background / setting

They should comment on the impressions given by each of these features in the artwork. To round off their work, students are then required to produce a written response in which they compare and contrast the two depictions, suggesting reasons for the different choices made by the artists. As with all Historiana eLearning Activities, this task can be edited and adapted to suit your classroom setting.


Historiana would not be possible without the efforts and generous contributions of historians and educators from Europe and beyondand the support of the Connecting Europe Facility of the European Union.


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