The Twelve Apostles
Jesus of Nazareth preached about God’s love and forgiveness to crowds gathered on the shores of the Sea of Galilee two thousand years ago. As he walked through towns and villages in the modern-day region of northern Israel, he inspired twelve disciples to follow him, to listen to his teachings, and to witness his healing miracles.
As Jesus’ influence grew, Roman authorities became suspicious and eventually considered him a threat to the Roman Empire. His closest followers began to fear for their own safety.
In about the year 33 CE, Jesus and his apostles were celebrating the Passover meal when he told them that he would be leaving them soon and that one of them was about to betray him.
After the Passover meal, now known as the Last Supper, Jesus was walking and praying alone in the Garden of Gethsemane when Judas Iscariot identified him to Roman soldiers. Jesus was arrested and beaten, brought before Pontius Pilate, and condemned to die.
As Jesus was dying a painful death on the cross, he expressed forgiveness for those who had turned against him. His body was placed in a tomb carved into a nearby hillside, with a large stone placed at its entrance. On the third day, Mary Magdalene asked that the stone be removed, and within it she found only the shroud Jesus had been buried in. According to Christian tradition, Jesus himself appeared to the Apostles numerous times after his death. Forty days later his soul ascended to heaven.
In the following years, during a violent era of religious persecution, the twelve Apostles journeyed to other parts of the world, preaching about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection – and then dying torturous deaths for their beliefs …
So who were they?
The Last Supper, or the Lord’s Supper, was Jesus’ final meal before his crucifixion. The painting has inspired different perspectives among historians regarding the existence of the Holy Grail; whether the figure to Jesus’ right is a young, effeminate-looking John the Evangelist or is really Jesus’ wife, Mary Magdeline.
Leonardo DaVinci brings this scene from the New Testament vividly to life in The Last Supper. The painting is located in the refectory of the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent in Milan. Construction of the convent and church began in the 1460’s, lasting about twenty years, and in 1494 the Duke of Milan hired DaVinci to design and paint the mural. The painting has been carefully preserved, along with other 15th century works besides DaVinci’s that survived the destruction of the buildings during WWII.
Preservation and Replications
The mural in the dining hall of the Santa Maria delle Grazie took DaVinci about four years to finish and has weathered destruction as well as restoration attempts in the past 500 years. Because of the type of paint DaVinci used on the dry plaster wall, the surface didn’t set well while he was creating the masterpiece, and within twenty years it began to chip off and fade with much of the subtle shading of the painting being lost. In 1652, construction within the refectory included a doorway to be cut through the deteriorating painting, replacing the area in front of the table with a doorway.
Then, in the fall of 1943, the convent was bombed and the dining hall mostly destroyed. Sandbags and a scaffolding structure protected the painting from the remaining years of WWII, and restoration efforts on the painting began in the 1950’s. From 1978 to 1999 the most extensive efforts to renovate the painting were conducted, closing up the dining hall and creating a climate controlled environment while simultaneously cleaning and studying the mural. Infrared cameras were used to view the paint layers to preserve Da Vinci’s original work and repair other restoration attempts.
Much of the detail which eroded away through the years might actually be preserved in recreations of the piece made by DaVinci’s fifteenth century contemporaries. The most notable of these was Giampietrino, an artist who copied many of DaVinci’s masterpieces. His full-size recreation of The Last Supper is an oil on canvas painting displayed at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.