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Sacrament of the Last Supper Painting by Salvador Dali

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Sacrament of the Last Supper Oil Painting
Keywords: Sacrament Art   Supper Painting  

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Sacrament of the Last Supper - Dali Paintings for Sale

The Sacrament of the Last Supper
Artist Salvador Dalí
Year 1955
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions 267 cm × 166.7 cm (105 in × 65.6 in)
Location National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

The Sacrament of the Last Supper is a painting by Salvador Dalí. Completed in 1955, after nine months of work, it remains one of his most popular compositions. Since its arrival at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1955, it replaced Renoir's A Girl with a Watering Can as the most popular piece in the museum.

The Sacrament of the Last Supper was completed during Dalí's post-World War II era, which is characterized by his increased interest in science, optical illusion and religion. During this time he became a devout Catholic and simultaneously was astonished by the "atomic age". Dalí himself labeled this era in his work "Nuclear Mysticism". He sought out to combine traditional Christian iconography with images of disintegration. This is especially apparent in his piece The Madonna of Port Lligat, which was completed six years earlier.

The painting wasn't commissioned. After purchasing the Crucifixion and then giving it to the Metropolitan, collector and banker Chester Dale told Dalí he "had to do one more religious picture". In a paragraph in the National Gallery's curatorial file but is missing from all published accounts, Dalí wrote of this picture:

The first Holy Communion on Earth is conceived as a sacred rite of the greatest happiness for humanity. This rite is expressed with plastic means and not with literary ones. My ambition was to incorporate to Zurbarán's mystical realism the experimental creativeness of modern painting in my desire to make it classic

— Salvador Dalí, A new look at Dalí's Sacrament

The Sacrament of the Last Supper depicts thirteen figures gathered around a table. Assuming this painting is in line with traditional symbolism the figures are Christ and his 12 Apostles. Christ is the center figure in the painting placed directly on the horizon line. Directly behind him on the intersection point of perspective rests the source of sunlight making the Christ figure the focus of the painting. He points upward directing the viewer’s attention to a dominating transparent torso with arms stretched outward spanning the width of the picture plane. The scene’s setting is within a transparent dodecahedron, or twelve-sided space as perceived in the pentagon shaped windowpanes behind the table. In the background is a familiar landscape of Catalonia, which Dalí has included in his paintings numerous times, one example being his famous painting The Persistence of Memory.

The combination of a classic Christian theme with the jarring techniques of Surrealism captures the eye, as Dalí was able to do repeatedly with such works as The Temptation of St. Anthony, Christ of Saint John of the Cross, Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus), Nuclear Cross and The Ecumenical Council, among others. The composition was laid out using the Golden Ratio.[2] Even the large dodecahedron in the background is very closely related to the Golden Ratio.

There have been many interpretations of this painting, but some critics have dismissed the piece, with the Protestant theologian Paul Tillich even calling it “junk.”[3] Michael Anthony Novak, a Catholic theologian, presented a paper on the subject of this piece in 2005.[4] He proposes that Dalí’s intention was not to simply paint the event of the last supper. He later stated:

Dalí's true intention, which he has masterfully accomplished on this canvas, is to remind us of what is occurring in every celebration of this mystery of bread and wine: that the worship here on Earth makes present the realities of worship in Heaven.

— Novak, Misunderstood Masterpiece[5]
Other critics, like Novak, say, by looking at the title, the focus is not placed on one evening two thousand years ago. The lack of individualization of the apostles, their lack of focus on Christ and the almost dematerialized Christ reaches beyond the fact of the event. Some say because Christ points to himself and the floating torso above him it could possible be that he is referring to himself as his spirit has already ascended to heaven.

Its Christian subject matter, simplicity of organization, and lack of shock value separate The Sacrament of the Last Supper from most of Salvador Dalí’s other works. Dalí’s reputation from the late 1920s to the mid-1940s was founded on his surrealist manner and use of Freudian dream imagery. This tableau of 1955 is both religious and realistic: the background accurately portrays the view from Dalí’s home on the Catalan coast of northeastern Spain. Although the rugged cliffs and eroded boulders of his native Catalonia had inspired many of the fantastic forms in his earlier works, here Dalí used the craggy bay of Port Lligat as a straightforward backdrop.

During the late 1940s, Dalí’s return to Christian imagery and traditional values was influenced by three factors: the devastating effects of the Spanish Civil War and World War II, his reawakened interest in classical art, and his reappraisal of Freud’s psychological principles after meeting the aging psychoanalyst in 1938. One classic derivation cited by Dalí in connection with his painting was Zurbarán, a seventeenth-century Spanish old master. The tousled hair of the praying figures, the kneeling postures, and the brilliant whites of their cloaks evoke Zurbarán’s precise, enamel-like handling of paint.

The Italian High Renaissance of the early 1500s was another major source for Dalí’s new classicism. As in the harmonious presentation of Renaissance schemes, Dalí’s composition is clearly divided: foreground action and background scenery. The placement of men around the table is symmetrical, the same figure repeated in perfect mirror image on both sides of Christ. Moreover, the entire nine-foot-long picture is constructed according to complex mathematical ratios devised by Renaissance scientists and such ancient Greek philosophers as Pythagoras.

Dalí explained the reliance upon this elaborate geometric patterning just after completing nine months of work on the picture:

I wanted to materialize the maximum of luminous and Pythagorean instantaneousness based on the celestial communion of the number twelve: twelve hours of the day—twelve months of the year—the twelve pentagons of the dodecahedron—twelve signs of the zodiac around the sun—the twelve apostles around Christ.

Thus, The Sacrament of the Last Supper is not an attempt to recreate the meal but a symbolic presentation of the Eucharistic ritual. Rather than specific apostles, the men at the table are idealized participants. The strange enclosure—part earthly, part celestial—is not the “large upper room” of the Bible, but an abstract concept embodied by the dodecahedron.

Just as the surrounding cupola appears only partially real, Christ is not corporeally present because his body is partially transparent. The more tangible allusion to Jesus’ physical presence is the symbolic bread and wine. This ethereal, disembodied torso above him is more youthful than the standard conception of the Creator, who is typically portrayed as an aged patriarch. The wide, outstretched arms might represent the resurrected Christ, but the nail holes are absent from the hands, and the wound does not appear on his side. Perhaps this figure embodies Dalí’s idea that “heaven is to be found exactly in the center of the bosom of the man who has faith!”

Dalí’s The Sacrament of the Last Supper was given to the National Gallery by one of its greatest benefactors, Chester Dale, who donated more than three hundred works of art to the museum. Dale reputedly suggested the subject matter, and he purchased Dalí’s self-proclaimed masterpiece as soon as it was finished. He then sent it to the National Gallery, where it was placed on public view the day before Easter in 1956. As Dale put it, “This is a picture for all time. It’s too important to keep for a few.” Dale and Dalí both attended the special preview, and more than seven thousand visitors flocked to the museum to see the painting the first day it was displayed.

The friendship between artist and collector was an enduring one. Dalí and his wife, Gala, were frequent guests at the Dale’s apartment, while Dale and his second wife, Mary, visited Dalí at his home in Spain. Dale pronounced Dalí “one of the greatest artists of our day,” and Dalí held the collector in equally high regard. Upon learning of Dale’s death in December 1962, Dalí mourned the passing of the man he described as “a great patron of the arts,” whom he compared to those of the Renaissance.


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