The beginning of Peter Greenaway’s multimedia interpretation of Leonardo’s Last Supper certainly replicated my experience in Milan. Lining up, waiting, herded inside, more waiting…
When we entered the dark room of the North Melbourne Town Hall the famous painting was projected onto one end, and the other painting in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie was projected onto the other end. In the middle was a plaster sculpture of the table of the Last Supper, complete with torn loaves of bread, half-empty plates and wine goblets.
‘Was this it?’ I wondered. ‘I paid $10 to gaze at a projection of the Last Supper for 20 minutes to the sounds of scraping strings?’. Fortunately this wasn’t the case, and in fact the next 20 minutes brought elements of the painting to light (literally) that I had never noticed before. The effects imbued vibrant colour and movement to the crumbling, faded original. The people seemed at times to be made of plaster, wood and flesh and the mood shifted from gloriously light to darkly ominous. Hidden details and expressions were revealed.
For me the lights and music really emphasised the spiritual significance of the painting and the drama of the moment when Christ announced that one of the apostles would betray him. I also admired the extreme closeups of the painting which revealed the superb detail of Leonardo’s work underneath the flecks of plaster and paint, and the almost grandiose journey sweeping above the topography of the painting.