Da Vinci: great artist, poor historian

One of the greatest pieces of art ever created (ok, I have trouble with the word “created, but I don’t have a good substitute here) is Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” It has all the characteristics of great art and adds a bit of intrigue.

But historically? It just isn’t accurate at all.

Da Vinci’s great work shows those at the Last Supper either sitting or standing behind a long table, modern banquet style. This simply is not how people gathered for breaking bread together during the time of Jesus.

The table would have been low to the floor and either square or rectangular. People gathered around it, and, since they did not use chairs, reclined on their left sides. This allowed eating with the right hand. Most people are (were) right-handed and the right hand was the “clean” hand. The left hand was used to perform “unclean” duties.

Jesus, as host of this Passover Feast, would have arranged the seating… err reclining. A person could rest by reclining on the chest, or bosom, of the person to their left. This may be the font of the term “bosom buddies.”

According to Scripture, John would have been to Jesus’ immediate right.

One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him.  –

John 13:23 (NIV)


Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”  – John 13:25

(Isn’t John subtle in how he portrays his relationship with Jesus?)

Jesus had just predicted His betrayal:

I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned[a] against me.

John 13:18

As we know, this was Judas Iscariot. There is much controversy about Judas. Was he truly a traitor, or had Jesus arranged for Judas to betray Him to fulfill prophesy? I think we find the answer here:

After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me. – John 13:21

Jesus knew who was going to betray Him. Yet it grieved Him. He was “troubled of spirit.” Jesus gave Judas several opportunities to change his mind, but of course, he didn’t.

In response to John’s question, Jesus replied:

Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. – John 13:26

So, where was Judas sitting? Most likely, to Jesus immediate left. That way, Jesus would not have had to pass the bread around the table or get up to deliver it. Both would have been much more obvious than Jesus wanted it to be.

To Jesus left… Jesus had seated Judas in the place of highest honor at this table. Jesus has seated Judas as His “bosom buddy.”

So, Leonardo, you were a great artist… But your history stinks.

A question… did Jesus consider Judas a friend?

Shalom, Art
Alive in the Word

About aliveintheword

Missouri, USA Married to Marty, 45 years 2 sons (with 2 daughers-in-law) and 2 granddaughters Life dedicated to serving Jesus Christ and delivering the Good News
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12 Responses to Da Vinci: great artist, poor historian

  1. I was God’s ‘enemy’ according to Romans 5 but He loved me and made me His friend – better still, I was adopted into His own family.

    Your question possibly can’t be answered, but we can be certain of one thing: Jesus loved Judas even though He knew what was about to happen.

  2. Pingback: 120401–George Hach’s Journal–Sunday | George Hach's Blog

  3. writinggomer says:

    I like history, thanks for the lesson!
    Did Jesus consider Judas a friend? Tough question that I have no answer for. The fact of what Judas was about to do was obviously troubling to Jesus, but yet had to happen to fulfill scripture.

    • I LOVE history.

      Jesus was well aware of Judas past when he was selected to be a disciple. Jesus was also well aware of some of the nefarious activities of Judas even while he was one of the 12. Yet Jesus kept him close, washed his feet the very night He was betrayed.

      Even with the foreknowledge of what was to happen, I personally believe that Jesus considered Judas as a friend who let Him down.

      Thanks for the comment and perspective.

      Shalom, Art

  4. granbee says:

    Well, I have known since Sunday School days as a child in a country church in Mississippi that DaVinci’s painting was a Renaissance Italian interpretation, not really trying to accurately picture the historical Last Supper of Jesus with the Twelve. But you pose a MOST interesting question that our adult Bible Study group here wrestles with frequently–did Jesus view Judas as a friend? Very applicable question for us believers to ask of those around us today!

    • I’m probably being a bit rough on poor old Leonardo! Historical accuracy was most certainly not his main goal in this painting or any others that I’m aware of. He was the master of mystery and intrigue.

      In my own past, I’ve had friends who have angered and grieved me to no end. Yet they have remained my friends. The key lies in forgiveness (not easy at times) and love (possible only with forgiveness.)

      There are many indications in the Bible, especially in the Gospel of John, that Jesus did still consider Judas a friend.

      Shalom, Art

  5. speaklife1 says:

    Thanks for that historical account….I love to learn about biblical times.

    • Placing Biblical historical events in the broader context of human history, and vice versa, brings it all alive. It also enhances our understanding, not only of past events, but today! That’s why I write often on Biblical/world history.

      Thanks for the visit and comment.

      Shalom, Art

  6. ptl2010 says:

    There could be a lesson here – Life is too complex – no professional is so perfect to know everything – just do what you can and let others do the rest or better or there will be no action, painting or even history.
    This should apply to our spiritual lives – we may not know the full circumstance – we must trust and obey to do what the Lord leads and let Him take care of the rest. Our little knowledge must not paralyze us to inaction for Jesus. He is asking for our availability for His use and will make all things beautiful in His time.

    • Too complex? Well, one of my saying is “Life was much simpler when the earth was flat. Up was up and down was down.” When we stay laser focused on our King, much of the clutter falls away.

      Shalom, Art

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