The Last Supper by Leonardo, scanned by Mark Harden



The story of the painting of The Last Supper is extremely interesting and instructive, and two incidents connected with it afford a most convincing lesson on the effects of right thinking or wrong thinking in the life of a boy or girl, or of a man or woman.

Leonardo, the noted Italian artist painted the Last Supper. It took seven years for him to complete it. The figures representing the twelve Apostles and Christ himself were painted from living persons. The life-model for the painting of the figure of Jesus was chosen first.

When it was decided that Leonardo would paint this great picture, hundreds and hundreds of young men were carefully viewed in an endeavor to find a face and personality exhibiting innocence and beauty, free from the scars and signs of dissipation caused by sin.

Finally, after weeks of laborious search, a young man nineteen years of age was selected as a model for the portrayal of Christ. For six months Leonardo worked on the production of this leading character of his famous painting. During the next six years Leonardo continued his labors on this sublime work of art. One by one fitting persons were chosen to represent each of the eleven Apostles -- with space being left for the painting of the figure representing Judas Iscariot as the final task of this masterpiece.

This was the Apostle, you remember, who betrayed his Lord for thirty pieces of silver. For weeks Leonardo searched for a man with a hard, callous face, with a countenance marked by scars of avarice, deceit, hypocrisy, and crime. A face that would delineate a character who would betray his best friend.

After many discouraging experiences in searching for the type of person required to represent Judas, word came to Leonardo that a man whose appearance fully met his requirements had been found in a dungeon in Rome, sentenced to die for a life of crime and murder. Leonardo made the trip to Rome at once, and this man was brought out from his imprisonment in the dungeon and led out into the light of the sun. There Leonardo saw before him a dark, swarthy man his long shaggy and unkempt hair sprawled over his face, which betrayed a character of viciousness and complete ruin. At last the famous painter had found the person he wanted to represent the character of Judas in his painting. By special permission from the king, this prisoner was carried to Milan where the picture was being painted. For months he sat before Leonardo at appointed hours each day as the gifted artist diligently continued his task of transmitting, to his painting, this base character representing the traitor and betrayer of our Savior.

As he finished his last stroke, he turned to the guards and said, I have finished. You may take the prisoner away. As the guards were leading their prisoner away, he suddenly broke loose from their control and rushed up to Leonardo, crying as he did so, "Leonardo, look at me. Do you not know who I am?" Leonardo, with the trained eyes of a great character student, carefully scrutinized the man upon whose face he had constantly gazed for six months and replied, "No, I have never seen you in my life until you were brought before me out of the dungeon in Rome."

Then, lifting his eyes toward heaven, the prisoner said, "Oh God, have I fallen so low?" Then turning his face to the painter he cried, "Leonardo, look at me again for I am the same man you painted just seven years ago as the figure of Christ."

Is the story true?  Maybe not....

However, it teaches so strongly the lesson of the effects of right and wrong thinking of an individual. He was a young man whose character was so pure and unspoiled by the sins of the world, that he represented a countenance and innocence and beauty fit to be used for the painting of the representation of Christ. But during the next seven years, following a life of sin and crime, he was changed into a perfect picture of the most notorious character ever known in the history of the world.


Documentary evidence indicates Leonardo began "The Last Supper" in 1495 and was finished with it by 1498. In 1499;  he fled Milan ahead of the invading French and didn't return to the city until 1506. There are no records of whom Leonardo used as models for the figures in "The Last Supper," but he was painting on a wall, undoubtedly from sketches, so it's unlikely he would have had models sitting in a "studio" for "days" while he "painted on canvas."

The prose version bears a strong similarity to the following bit of verse (of unknown origin):

Two pictures hung on the dingy wall
Of a grand old Florentine hall --

One of a child of beauty rare,
With a cherub face and golden hair;
The lovely look of whose radiant eyes
Filled the soul with thoughts of Paradise.

The other was a visage vile
Marked with the lines of lust and guile,
A loathsome being, whose features fell
Brought to the soul weird thoughts of hell.

Side by side in their frames of gold,
Dingy and dusty and cracked and old,
This is the solemn tale they told:

A youthful painter found one day,
In the streets of Rome, a child at play,
And, moved by the beauty that it bore,
The heavenly look that its features wore,
On a canvas, radiant and grand,
He painted its face with a master hand.

 Year after year on his wall it hung;
'Twas ever joyful and always young --
Driving away all thoughts of gloom
While the painter toiled in his dingy room.

Like an angel of light it met his gaze,
Bringing him dreams of his boyhood days,
Filling his soul with a sense of praise.

His raven ringlets grew thin and gray,
His young ambition all passed away;
Yet he looked for years in many a place,
To find a contrast to that sweet face.

Through haunts of vice in the night he stayed
To find some ruin that crime had made.
At last in a prison cell he caught
A glimpse of the hideous fiend he sought.

 On a canvas weird and wild but grand,
He painted the face with a master hand.

His task was done; 'twas a work sublime ---
And angel of joy and a fiend of crime --
A lesson of life from the wrecks of time.

O Crime: with ruin thy road is strewn;
The brightest beauty the world has known
Thy power has wasted, till in the mind
No trace of its presence is left behind.

The loathsome wretch in the dungeon low,
With a face of a fiend and a look of woe,
Ruined by revels of crime and sin,
A pitiful wreck of what might have been,
Hated and shunned, and without a home,
Was the child that had played in the streets of Rome.

Interesting Information:

A note from Mark Harden which many of you may not know, so I thought I'd share it with you.  Leonardo had no last name, "da Vinci" merely meaning "of Vinci", a reference to the city of Vinci from which he came. In other words, "Da Vinci" is NOT his last name as we would think it today.  Thanks Mr. Harden!

Read more about this tale at Urban Legends Reference Pages
Parts of the above taken from Urban Legends Reference Pages and is used with their written permission

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Midi "Here to comfort you"
Original Composition by Bruce DeBoer 2001
and is used with permission



The Last Supper
by Leonardo

Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie (Refectory), Milan
Scanned by Mark Harden
 and is used with permission

Gold frame artwork by Spiritisup
Webset by Spiritisup 2003