The Last Supper reiterates that nothing will every satisfy me the way He can. No food here on earth is made to match the God-sized hunger inside me.
By Paige Rien
As someone who has attended 12-step meetings for 20 years, art that depicts people sitting around a table, attentively listening for direction from the speaker, grabs my attention. Add that I attend these meetings for disordered eating and drinking, and you could say I feel at home gazing upon Last Supper depictions. The Last Supper is how our Lord endeavored to teach us to eat. He also teaches us about our brokenness and how we all will betray Him at some point or another.
How the Last Supper actually took place is unknown, but this scene: Jesus at the center of a long table, with bread; apostles flanking on either side in various states of distress, disbelief, confusion, shame; is given to us by Leonardo Da Vinci’s original late-career work from 1498. That first, fateful Last Supper set the standard for us and for millions of future attempts at retelling this event in the gospels and it still stands in its original humble location in Italy.
Recently I heard artist and icon-writer Elizabeth Zelasko say, in defense of having religious art in the home, that 90% of the things we learn, we learn visually. Images seep into our brains in a powerful way. Especially those lessons which are hard to swallow. Pun intended. This only underscores what I have always believed, long before I ventured into the Church: that what is in the home and in front of us (namely on the walls) deeply affects us, seeping into our consciousness. This is the best reason to hang a Last Supper up. After all, Jesus sat at the table, and invited us to join Him, to teach us to eat. Our hunger for daily bread, both physical and spiritual, will come to us regardless of what’s on the walls– it’s baked into us. What we do with it is what we need the reminder for.
The Last Supper reiterates that nothing will every satisfy me the way He can. No food here on earth is made to match the God-sized hunger inside me. There is another truth here – first explored by Da Vinci, in that “one will betray Him.” I am (still) broken and deeply flawed and despite having taken my seat at the table, I will fall again and again. See how the apostles are taking in the Lord’s words: some seem to say, Ah, yeah, ok, got it…Others seem to say, What the heck is he talking about?? Some say, No! Which one are you?
Religious art is about revisiting stories we need to see again and again, for our good. Finding religious art for the home is not as simple as, Does it match? Or even Do I like it? It must move us toward our Good, and it should move the needle, spiritually. In this, we move beyond decorating and into the greater task of building of the domestic church.
This isn’t as easy as finding the religious art your mother used, necessarily, or the art your most devout friend finds encouraging. Finding religious art is a deeply personal process. I personally love the range and revel in what is available to us, as you’ll see in the round up of Last Supper works I’ve collected here. I love the story told in simple shapes that came out of the modernist tradition as much as the sumptuous detail of the renaissance tradition, revisited.
In the list below you’ll find inspired brand-new works and the charm of vintage that has survived other Christian households. And I stand at awe at how each points back in some way, to Da Vinci’s original. The question is: which will move your heart?
(N.B.: I would encourage you, as a first step in contemplating the art of the Last Supper, to read about the incredible story of this work and its miraculous survival.)
Ivanka Demchuk’s work is nothing short of gripping. It takes me back to my childhood in the Eastern Orthodox Church, but there is also something piercingly modern about her work. She has a way of creating depth and emotion that I have never seen anywhere else, using materials that have an ancient quality. I’m quite taken by her version of the Last Supper, titled Appearance to Ten. See more of her work in her Etsy shop, ModernIconArt.
The Latin Nomad, aka artist and mother Alejandra Fregoso, has created a series of mid-century inspired multi-media Last Supper depictions that are both poignant, whimsical and sharp – ever reminding us that the essentials are present, even without so many other details: God, the bread, the people, His mercy.
Pivoting to the traditional is this print from late 19th century German painter Max Schmalzl. This richness of color, texture, pattern and detail make it appear as it came to form from William Morris wallpaper. It is from ClassicCatholicon | Etsy.
I just adore this line drawing print from PlaLine, which somehow, it’s excruciating simplicity, conveys the inner lives of the apostles.
I have come upon the work of Ivan Guaderrama again and again for his black silhouettes atop riots of color. To me this work reminds me that amid the colors and clamor of our world that aim to distract us, we can still find the sustenance of the Lord’s Supper.
I long for what is modern and fresh but I have an equal craving for what was considered fresh a few generations ago. I am not exactly a collector, but I do adore paint-by-numbers – a beloved trend from the 1950s on eBay. Here is our gang via paint-by-number:
Hearkening back to my Orthodox roots again, I’m drawn to these two vintage Greek icons from a store called Urban Treasurez. The first isolates Jesus’ face so poignantly. The second has such expressiveness in each apostle. I can humbly relate to whoever it is who is laying his face on the table in either fatigue or distress just as much as the eager beaver to our Lord’s right.
DaVinci’s classic work with an Instagram filter is what is served in this vintage reprint. Facial expressions and response to our Lord that my first acting teacher would have approved of – “big enough for the last row in the theater.”
Because of it’s materials, I suppose this is technically “farmhouse” from mom and artisan, Julie Carriere and her shop CocoKissesDesigns, but I’m not drawn to it because of that association. I find this reverse silhouette on wood, haunting. We are again easily able to identify what is happening and it’s magnitude, but its up to us to fill in the expressions and inner lives of who is present.
I just love textiles in any format. Haute couture all the way to cross stitch, the medium for this Last Supper. Sweet, green and somehow expressive, even in this simple vintage handicraft on eBay:
Paige Rien is a convert to the Catholic faith, a wife and mother to four children. She is a designer chiefly interested in the intersection of the home and the spiritual life, and the author of “Love the House You’re In: 40 Ways to Improve Your House & Change Your Life.” You can find her on Instagram @paigerien or Facebook @lovethehouseyourein.