Maundy Thursday - Last Supper by Stanley Spencer

April 17, 2014

Stanley Spencer: Last Supper, 1920, oil on canvas, 91.5 x 122 cm.


I'm quite partial to Stanley Spencer's work. He had a distinctive style and was not at all impeded in his work by spending the majority of his life in a single English village. In fact, the village was a constant source of inspiration for him as he depicted every nook and cranny of it. He was a wonderful example of someone who seamlessly integrated faith, art and life.


While this painting follows many last supper traditions such as long, single sided table to accommodate all the disciples, there is a lot that is slightly more unusual. Bodies and feet don't quite match up without some physical contortion underneath the table, nearly everyone is focused on the disciple near Jesus and significantly there are no cups on the table.


The disciples on our right seem tense with their arms out, leaning back and away; the ones on our left seem uncertain, leaning forward as though no one is sure what is happening. As though they are waiting, but not sure what for.


Even though the perspective is already skewed by this painting, Jesus' head still seems a little smaller and less prominent than some others, so that even though he is in the centre, it is the disciple leading over who grabs our attention initially.


Maybe this painting is asking us to remember the great uncertainty of this time for Jesus and the disciples. The joy and celebration from Sunday must feel long gone. The disciples had no way of knowing just how important the next three days would be for them, and us, so what did they sense was happening? How thickly did they feel an air of trouble brewing around them as the golden light of day begins to slip into night with shadows beginning to play on the walls? 


These are just my thoughts. What do you see? What do you feel?


On Friday and Sunday there will be new Easter posts featuring Stanley Spencer


More info / resources:

A Journey Into Christian Art by Helen de Borchgrave


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