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Last Supper

jesus apostles table judas

The story of the last meal, on or near the Jewish feast of Passover, which Jesus shared with his disciples in an upper room of a house in Jerusalem, receives coverage in all four Gospels. The event precedes the Agony in the Garden and the *Betrayal of *Christ by *Judas. During the meal, Jesus bade farewell to the *apostles, announced his upcoming betrayal and *death, and shared bread and wine with the apostles which act is celebrated in the ritual of the Eucharist (from Greek: eucharistein , “to give thanks”). This partaking of bread and wine in memory of the Last Supper was celebrated in the early church and remained the central sacrament (Holy Communion, Lord’s Supper) through the Middle Ages .The significance of the Last Supper is also reflected by its frequent appearance in art from the early Christian period onward, although different aspects of the story are emphasized in several divergent pictorial formulae.

Early representations from the sixth century are of two main types: the scene is presented as a meal (with Jesus and the apostles seated or reclining around a table) or as a liturgical act (Jesus stands at an altar distributing the Eucharist or Page 152  is approached by the apostles in a procession). This latter type, of greater frequency in Byzantine art until the thirteenth century, is discussed separately).

The more typical western type, representing a meal, may show Jesus and the apostles reclining around a semicircular table. Tableware, *fish, bread, and the sacrificial lamb may be indicated on the table. The fish and bread also make reference to previous *miracles as well as functioning as symbols for Christ. Although not all twelve apostles may be shown (pending spatial limits of the composition), the betrayer Judas is often signalled by his pose and gesture. As Jesus spoke, Judas reached out his hand to a dish on the table (e.g., *Matthew 26:23) or reached to accept a piece of bread dipped in the bowl by Jesus (John 13:26). Some of the other apostles may also be identifiable: *Peter may be shown pensively resting his head on his hand (a premonition of his coming denial of Jesus), and *John is often shown seated next to Jesus, resting his head on Jesus’ shoulder (John 13:23) or on the table. By the ninth century, the image usually shows the apostles seated at a long table; Jesus may take the central position, and Judas will be shown alone in the foreground, seated at the table opposite from the main group. A few examples omit the obvious identification of Judas, although the motif is more often included. An interior setting or architectural backdrop is frequently shown, and the image may be combined with, or narrated in a sequence preceding the *Washing of the Feet. The image appears in all media through the Gothic period.


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