Introductory Note: Among the lanes and avenues of ancient Rome were apartment buildings known as insule (insulae, plural). Within these structures were small upstairs rooms that were used for meals. The Italian word for the dinner meal, cena, comes from the Latin word for those upper rooms: cenaculum. The Italian word for the Last Supper, Cenacolo, is also derived from that same base word and is used interchangeably with “‘l’Ultima Cena” (The Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples).
In Search of Florence’s Last Suppers
My first encounter with Taddeo Gaddi’s fresco of the Last Supper and Tree of Life came late on a summer’s afternoon. Santa Croce lies east of the Piazza della Signoria. The ancient lanes you walk to arrive at the Piazza Santa Croce take you past the area where the ancient Roman amphitheater of Florentia once stood.
My goal was to visit one of the most famous symbols of Florence, Cimabue’s Crucifixion. It was only upon entering the vast space of the refectory that the scale and beauty of Gaddi’s work came to me. Below the Tree of Life is the Last Supper, a work that was heavily damaged during the floods of November 1966. It has been painstakingly and lovingly restored.
On another day in Florence, I was fortunate to be introduced to the work of another Renaissance artist, Andrea del Castango. His luminous Last Supper, a fresco on the northwest wall of the refectory in the Convent of Sant’Apollonia, came as yet another surprise.
Last Suppers. Florence. Cenaculum. Upper Rooms.
My curiosity was roused. How many paintings of the cenaculum exist in the city? My search for the Last Suppers of Florence began.
The list is long.
No fewer than seven Last Supper frescoes exist within the confines of the ancient city center. From Santa Maria Novella on the northwest part of the, to Ognissanti in the city center, to Santa Croce and San Salvi in the east, the collection of these incredible works span centuries, united by their subject matter. By taking the time to visit them, visitors can learn a great deal about the changes made in the art of fresco during the Renaissance. An added bonus is that these marvelous pieces of art are rarely visited by but a few tourists.
Rather than detail each of these unforgettable frescoes, I have placed photos of the frescoes below, in time line sequence, earliest to latest. Below each photo are details about their location, the open hours, the price of entrance tickets, and some brief analysis and information about the work.
Regardless of your religious beliefs, the beauty of these frescoes and the places they were created, offer visitors ample opportunity to more deeply understand the profound influence of the Christian church on the artists and history of Renaissance Florence.
I hope that those of you who visit Florence will take time to visit these unforgettable works of art.
IF YOU GO:
The Cenacule of Florence – the Last Suppers of Florence
Other than the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci and very few other frescoes, Gaddi’s work placed the disciple Judas Iscariot on the opposite side of the table from Jesus and the other disciples. This same configuration is repeated in most Renaissance Last Supper Frescoes.
Last Supper and Tree of Life, ca. 1335
Refectory, Basilica of Santa Croce
Piazza di Santa Croce, 16
50122 Firenze, Italy
Entrance tickets: Euro 6.00 per person
Location of Ticket Office: The ticket office is on the north side of the basilica. As you face the facade of the church, go to the left side and you will find the ticket office and visitors entrance. The refectory is through the church nave on the south side of the complex.
Andrea del Castagno
Last Supper, ca. 1447
Convent of Sant’Apollonia
Via 27 Aprile, 1
50129 Firenze, Italy
Entrance tickets: Entrance to this refectory is free
Closed on the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month and the 1st, 3rd and 5th Sunday of each month
Castagno chose to place the figure of Judas facing to the right, unlike Gaddi’s composition which had Judas looking to the left. Also, Castagno has Judas and Jesus in closer proximity than in Gaddi’s earlier work.
Last Supper, ca. 1480
Borgo Ognissanti, 42
50123 Florence, Italy
Entrance Tickets: Entrance to the church is free
Weekdays and weekends: 7:125AM – 12:30PM and 4:00PM to 8:00PM
Festival days: 9:00AM to 1:00PM and 4:00PM to 8:00PM
Be sure to check hours of the Mass so you do not interrupt services.
In the first of two Last Supper frescoes commissioned with Ghirlandaio, (see next listing below as well) Judas is facing left and rather than St. John being bowed onto Jesus’s arm, in Domenico’s work he portrays the disciple as deferential, his head nearly even with that of Jesus.
Last Supper, ca. 1482
Piazza di San Marco, 1
50121 Firenze, Italy
Entrance tickets: Euro 4.00 per person
Saturday, Sunday: 8:15am-4:50pm
NOTE: Closed the 1st, 3rd and 5th Sunday
and the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month, New Year’s Day, May 1, Christmas Day
Considered by many art historians and experts to be the finest Last Supper of the 15th and 16th Century Italian Renaissance, Ghirlandaio’s second Last Supper – his first (above) was completed two years earlier – reflects important lessons learned in both the quality of the paints used in the fresco, the depiction of body posture and the refined use of perspective.
Last Supper, ca. 1492
Convent of Fuligno
Via Faenza, 42
50123 Firenze, Italy
Entrance Tickets: Tickets for the church are free
Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday 9am-Noon, Closed Sunday
Closed New Year’s Day, Christmas Day, May 1
Early attributions of this fresco were to the Renaissance artist, Raphael. Further inspection and study revealed it to be a work by the Umbrian artist Pietro Perugino. Some art experts believe that this fresco was painted over a late 15th century work by Neri di Bicci, a Florentine Renaissance artist. The fresco is considered to be the finest example of Umbrian Renaissance art in the city.
Andrea del Sarto
Last Supper, ca. 1519 – 1527
Entrance tickets: Entrance to the church is free
Tuesday hours 8:15 am–1:50 pm
In 1530, the commander of Spain’s Charles V’s troops who had invaded Florence spared this work owing to its incredible beauty. Andrea del Sarto chose to place Judas to the far right, so that the other figures in the painting would be the focus of his work. The fine detail of this fresco is incredible to see and well worth the effort of finding your way to the church of San Salvi.
Last Supper, ca. 1584 – 1597
Santa Maria Novella
Piazza di Santa Maria Novella, 18
50123 Florence, Italy
Entrance tickets: Euro 2.50 per person
Monday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday 10am-4pm
Weekday holidays 9am-2pm
One of the most unusual frescoes and paintings of the Renaissance. Allori’s work, mannerist in style, is actually two works of art: fresco and canvas. The panel in the lower center of the fresco is actually a canvas on which Allori has created a vision of an energetic and physically active Last Supper. There is a heretofore unseen vitality and dynamic to this depiction of the event. Allori’s unique work served to inspire other artists of the late 16th Century to experiment with new styles of art. This is the final depiction of the Last Supper in a Florentine church.