It may only receive a cursory look by most visitors, but Santa Maria delle Grazie is a handsome church with a fine dome by Bramante. There is also a lovely cloister. The last meal shared by Jesus and his disciples was a common theme used to decorate convent refectories, especially in Florence, but Leonardo presented the subject in a completely innovative form. He made drastic modifications to the layout of the scene and, most notably, presented this episode from the Gospels with astounding realism.
Despite Leonardo's carefully preserved preparatory sketches in which the apostles are clearly labeled by name, there still remains some small debate about a few identities in the final arrangement. Most recently, novelist Dan Brown claims in The Da Vinci Code that the figure on Jesus' right is not John the Apostle, but Mary Magdalene. Brown also claims that Peter is making a threatening gesture towards "Mary," representing a fierce battle between the two figures in the early church. Most art historians, however, point out that St. John is commonly represented with feminine features and there is no reason to think the figure is Mary.
Whatever the case, there can be no mistaking Judas, small and dark, his hand calmly reaching forward to the bread, isolated from the terrible confusion that has taken the hearts of the others. One critic, Frederick Hartt, has said the composition works because it combines "dramatic confusion" with "mathematical order."
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