The last meal of Jesus Christ together with the twelve apostles (Matthew 26:17-35; Mark 14: 12-31; Lucas 22: 7-38; John 13: 1-17) occurred on the eve of Judaical Easter, it was usually accompanied by immolation and partaking of a lamb.At the Last Supper Jesus Christ Himself assumes the role of a lamb when He makes a symbolic sacrifice-breaking bread and giving to His disciples a cup of wine with the words: “Now as they were eating Jesus took bread and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said: “ Take, eat, this is my body. And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26: 26-28; Mark 14: 22-24; Lucas 22: 19-20). In this way the sacrament of communion was instituted which is central to the Christian Liturgy.In Byzantine and Old Russian art alongside with symbolic and dogmatic composition of Communion (“The Communion of the Apostles”) a historic composition featuring the Last Supper illustrating the Gospel text has become popular.
The icons with the Last Supper depict a meal in the Cenacle on the eve of the Lord’s suffering. Jesus Christ and the apostles are sitting at the table. Christ is depicted at the time of sanctification of bread and wine and communion of one of the apostles.
Symbolic depiction of the Communion is already present in the early Christian art: in the catacombe painting (Ш-1V centiries) numerous depictions of bread and fish which symbolized this central Sacrament of the Church.Besides, as early as in the catacombs can be seen depictions of Christian meals of the believers round the table laid with bread, fish and jars.But one can never be certain that these are depiction of the sp.ecific event-the Last Supper.The first depiction of the meal identifiable as the Last Supper can be found in the Rossano Gospels of the V1 century.Jesus Christ and twelve apostles are in a reclining position near the semicircular table on which there is a big vessel-a platter.Sometimes on the platter there was fish which symbolized a eucharistical sacrifice.The place of honour, the first on the left is occupied by Jesus Christ. Judas Iscariot who was usually depicted with his hand held out to the platter (Matthew 26:23)was often placed opposite Christ (for example on the miniature of the khludov psalter) which symbolized his confrontation with God.
With time the composition somewhat changes.Later Christ’s place of honour is shifted to the centre of the table and the apostles are seated to the right and to the left of the Saviour.On the icons of the Middle Byzantine period an architectural background appears-the picture of the Cenacle. The apostles are no longer in the reclining position, they are seated around the table with some of them with their backs to the spectator.Near Jesus Christ is St.John the Theologian (In.13:23) after him is Peter.Judas, as in the earlier icons reaches out to the platter.The apostles seem to be moving: they turn to each other, incline their heads, gesticulate. A specific historic fact of predicting the traitor is being conveyed: the apostles are distressed, they are in turmoil asking “Is it I,Lord?”
The Great Thursday (in remembrance of the Last Supper)-is Thursday of the Holy Passion Week.
Zhanna G. Belik,
Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.
Olga E. Savchenko,
research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.
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