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Napoleon, Jesus and the Free Masons: The Last Supper in Vienna

…it should not be hard for you to stop sometimes and look into the stains of walls, or ashes of a fire, or clouds, or mud or like places, in which, if you consider them well, you may find really marvellous ideas.
Leonardo daVinci Quoted in Irma  A Richter (ed) Selections from the Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci (1977)

I’ve been dying to share a little secret with you. It’s time. And you deserve it. (Shh! Even if you don’t, pretend you do, I’m bursting to let you in on this). In fact, let me surprise you and let’s make it a day. First we’ll go for lunch at Café Central and as we are walking over to Freud’s old hang out for a großer Brauner and an Apfelstrudel (Café Landtmann), I’ll share with you one of Vienna’s very best wonderfully amazing secrets. As we walk up the Leopold Figl Gasse from Café Central, you’ll happen to remark on how hot the city can get in summer and on cue, I’ll pull you into the cool Italian National Church of Mary of the Snows. Then you’ll close your eyes while I guide you to your surprise. No peeking until I put the 50 cent piece into the box on the marble column by the pews to activate the spotlights. Okay. Now! A life-sized 1816 replica of Leonardo Da Vinci’s 1495 painting, Last Supper!

Minoriten Church, aka Italian National Church of Mary of the Snows , Vienna, Austria

I know what you’re thinking. ‘We’re in Europe. Let’s hop the train to Milan and see the real thing. Why the copy?’


Top five reasons:
1) No entrance fee or need to reserve a spot on a tour weeks in advance. And let’s face it, you probably don’t have endless vacation days and enjoy the Austrian legally required 5 weeks a year vacation (yes, we do, we really all do get (at least) 5 weeks (!) here)

In Giacomo Raffaelli’s mosaic copy of Da Vinci’s Last Supper, completed for Napoleon, the feet of the disciples are visible and one can ask — is that Mary Magdalene at his side?

2) This copy is far better preserved than the original, which is a mural that was painted on dry wall rather than wet plaster and since 1517 (only 30 years after it was made) already started to show signs of wear and tear. The Milan painting is cracking and has had the bottom cut off with its fragile paint fading from light exposure and elements. Groups of 25 have to pass through a climate controlled room before entering and only get to look for 15 minutes max.
3) But here in Minoriten Church, we’re alone and you have plenty of time to look closely and admire a piece of artwork made up of 10,000 (!) hand-painted mosaic tiles (and you thought your flower pot project was demanding). Imagine such a puzzle!
4) You are looking at a piece of art that is testament to the thrilling tales of history, love, war, intrigue and unsolved mysteries
5) And the best reason? We’ll probably be completely alone in the cool quiet expanse of the French Gothic cathedral while we take in the wonderment. And when is the last time you can claim you actually stood in awe and wonder of something, dumbfounded and thrilled, inspired by art?

The Last Supper / Communion / The Covenant / The Betrayal / The Crucifixion

Side Entrance at end of hall into Minoriten Church

According to the Bible passage, Matthew 26:17-30, Jesus and his disciples ate Passover together. During the dinner, he sat at a table with all 12 disciples. And while they ate, he told them that one of them would betray him and it would be the one who dipped his hand into the bowl

Raffaelli’s mosaic copy of Da Vinci’s Last Supper in Vienna’s Minoriten Church

with him. (Click on the picture above left to the left to enlarge it. You see Judas and Jesus reaching for the same bowl and Judas clenching a bag of money – indicating that he will betray Jesus. You see the disciples reacting to the betrayal of Jesus – which was a ground-breaking portrayal at the time). Jesus took the bread, gave thanks for it, broke it and said to his disciples, “Take and eat, this is my body.” And then he took a cup, gave thanks and gave it to his disciples and said, “Drink, all of you. This is my blood and the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” He said he would not drink it again until he shared the drink with the disciples in his Father’s kingdom.

From there Jesus went to the Mount of Olives and shortly thereafter he was crucified.

The Original Portrait and Leonardo Da Vinci

I highly recommend the Khan Academy material and this short video will tell you everything you need to know (to be sufficiently impressive to those who know nothing) about Da Vinci’s Last Supper: Khan Academy, The Last Supper

Interesting blog post by Lisa Shea about the original painting

Interior of the Italian National Church of Mary of Snows, aka Minoriten Church, Vienna, Austria

Dan Brown and the Intrigue Behind the Portrait

See the passage “The Secret of the Holy Grail” in this Dan Brown Da Vinci Code Wikipedia entry.

Napoleon and This Last Supper

In 1805 Napoleon ordered the original to be transferred to Paris. Fortunately, it couldn’t be removed so he ordered a copy. Giacomo Raffaelli began working on the masterpiece in 1806 and completed it eight years later. By then, however, Napoleon was in exile in Elba. So his son-in-law, Kaiser Franz I, wanted to put it in Schloss Belvedere but the mosaic didn’t fit there so it ended up here.

And now that you’ve had your surprise, it’s time for some Apfelstrudel at Landtmann (or maybe a wine in the Augustiner Keller?) — or both? — the day is young and there are so many things left to explore!

Raffaelli’s mosaic copy of Da Vinci’s Last Supper in Vienna’s Minoriten Church

More Interesting Links:

Da Vinci’s Last Supper: New Conspiracy Theory”, The Telegraph newspaper, 30 June 2007

Clip from Movie on Wiki Clip: http://danbrown.wikia.com/wiki/File:The_Da_Vinci_Code_(2006)_-_Clip_The_Last_Supper

Downloadable Image of Giacomo Raffaelli’s Last Supper from Wiki Commons

Wikipedia on Last Supper