The Last Supper from
Milan to : Calcutta
The most famous & ferociously talented artist Leonardo Da Vinci painted “The Last Supper” on the refectory of Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie,
around 1495 based
on the Gospel of John 13.21, which depicted the consternation that occurred
among the twelve disciples when Jesus announced that one of them would betray
painting remains as a treasure of Christianity and a mystique question to the
observers till date. Milan
Some have identified the person to Jesus' right (left of Jesus from the viewer's perspective), not as John the Apostle, but a woman, often purported to be Mary Magdelene. This speculation was the topic of the book The Templar Revelation (1997) by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, and played a central role in Dan Brown's fiction novel The Da Vinci Code (2003). The Dan Brown blockbuster novel turns into a much hyped & controversial super-hit
crime thriller in 2006.
The Last Supper, ca. 1520, by Giovanni Pietro Rizzoli, called Giampietrino (active 1508-1549), after Leonardo da Vinci, oil on canvas, currently in the collection of The Royal Academy of Arts, London ; an accurate, full-scale copy that was the main source for the twenty-year restoration of the original (1978-1998). It includes several lost details such as Christ's feet and the salt cellar spilled by Judas. Giampietrino is thought to have worked closely with Leonardo when he was in Milan.(courtesy: Wikipedia)
“The Last Supper” becomes the inspiration for many artists of different era & Christian artists, as per their thought-line, had produced the same across the globe.
One of the alike master-piece was also produced in
& preserved till date as an altar piece to ,
Kolkata. St. John’s Church
From the written document of past we came to know, “Royal Academician, Zoffany, painted, in
Calcutta, a picture, “The
Last Supper," which he, in 1787, presented for an altar-piece to , then approaching completion”. St. John's Church
The Last Supper in St. John’s Church, Kolkata by John Zoffany
(Courtesy: Lense Work by Sudip Ghosh)
Let us be a little beat of Dan Brown here, who was this John Zoffany?
“Zoffany” the name though suggested some Italian accent; actually he was born in
in 1733. In his very tender age, he ran away from home & found himself in Frankfort, Germany , with a burning
passion of learning art. Ultimately with the timely intervention of his father
he had been enrolled in a convent & remained in Rome for twelve years. During this
tenure he had visited different Italian cities and learned his skill as an
artist. After a short visit to Italy Germany,
Zoffany decided to make his way to the British Capital, in 1761. In London ,
Zoffany commenced his career as one drapery artist under portrait painter
Benjamin Wilson. The monotony of his work was not satisfying his artistic
liberty. Joffany decided to pursue his artistic profession on his own. London
At the same time another exceptionally talented person was reforming the European stage, David Garrick (1717-1779). Zoffany’s first break as one remarkable portrait painter came through the master-piece Garrick as the character of Able Drugger of the famous play The Alchemist.
David Garrick as Abel Drugger in Jonson's The Alchemist
Zoffany’s talent soon established him as one of the most sought after portrait painters of the-then elite British society. But his liberal habits of living exceeded his income, and though never he had shortage of clientele, his finances became seriously straitened. He obtained the patronage of the reigning majesties, and some of his best pictures are those of portraits and conversation pieces of the royal family.
It was also the formation years of European institutes. When the Royal Academy of Arts,
was formed in 1768, Zoffany was nominated a member, in 1772 he painted
"The Life School of the Royal Academy." and which contains portraits
of the thirty six foundation members. The thirty-four male academicians are
represented in various attitudes, and on the walls of the room are portraits in
frames of the two female members, Angelica Kauffman and Mary Moser. Zoffany has
represented himself with a palette in his hand, and we would here observe that
it was apparently his practice to introduce a portrait of himself, either with
a pencil or a palette in his hand, into all his pictures containing a large number
of figures. Till date it is under Royal Collection, London .
Zoffany could very well choose the lucrative life of
Abandoning the world voyage, next he decided to go to
. During this period he had
received the Royal patronage and a commission to paint his famous work of “The
Florence Gallery” from Queen Charlotte. Till date it is under possession of Royal
Collection, Italy . Windsor
After acquiring great distinction in
We have to speculate what made Joffany to embark on the bank of
On the bank of Thames, he had already
established his portrait producing skill as a phenomenon.
Was this voyage eyed to accumulating wealth from the Indian Kings & Anglo Indian notables by selling his uncanny skill or was it to balance his unfulfilled adventurist instinct? May there be something beneath the carpet?
Probably his skill was the root of this voyage from Thames to
It is said, he was obliged to leave , owing to the ill feeling
he had roused against himself through his injudicious indulgence in the habit
of introducing the portraits of his friends and acquaintances into his pictures
without the permission of the original, and often in unflattering guise. He used to defame the living person by
putting them in his group picture as a caricature character provided he had
some bitter feeling towards that person. This practical joke of the artist even
had scandalized England English Court,
when in one of his painting he had hinted the intimacy of Queen Charlotte, in
her maiden stage to certain German admirer.
Here it will not be very out of place, to mention that some of the immensely talented people whose ability in their respective field was phenomenon but not up to the liking of the British Authority or elite
society had their solace to the greatest British settlement, , with a
myth that Indian dust is even gold. Such an example is Sir Phlip Francis
(1740-1818), who had been detected by modern computer aided analysis as the
creator of notorious “Letters of Junious”. India
However, Joffany after arriving in
went to the , remains there
for several years, continued his portrait producing skill for Indian rulers,
politicians, East India Company’s high officials, native notables and amassed a
considerable fortune. His professional charge became one thousand rupees per
day against his skill. province
In 1787, Zoffany was residing in
When the St. John’s Church, Calcutta was consecrated the painting had been finished and hung in its place, and must have caused no small sensation in Calcutta society when it was found that the figures in the picture were more or less faithful likenesses of members of the community. The three principal figures in the picture, the Saviour,
and Judas Iscariot, were portraits. The original of the first is said to have
been a Greek priest, Father Parthenio, who was well known in St. John for his piety and good works. St.
John was represented by Mr. Blaquiere, who was for years a magistrate of
Calcutta, famous to make some of his cleverest catch in female disguise &
rather infamous as a "Brahmanised European, notorious for his hostility to
Christianity and his indifferent character" as chronicled by one of the famous
clergyman of the-then period, and in Judas Iscariot was pilloried an old
resident of the town, Tulloh, the auctioneer. The remaining figures appear to
have been less exact portraits, and the names of others who appeared in the
canvas had faded away with time. Calcutta
The Last Supper in St. John’s Church, Kolkata by John Zoffany
Further, there was a speculation whether Judas Iscariot was John Paull, East India Company’s servant & businessman at
residency, who, afterwards in England
became a fiery White Mogul, antagonist to ’s
political treatment to the Nabob of Lucknow, with whom Joffany wanted to settle
his personal score. As per our thought, Chronological evidence of Paul’s
presence at Wellesley
prior to 1787 is against this speculation. Lucknow
Whatever ripples it causes in the-then Anglo-Saxon community of
had accepted this Altar –piece as
their prized possession. They had written a profuse thanks giving letter to the
artist for this kind act of his benevolence- " We should do a violence to
your delicacy were we to express, or endeavour to express, in such terms as the
occasion calls for, our sense of the favour you have conferred on the
Settlement by presenting to their place of worship, so capital a painting, that
it would adorn the first Church of Europe, and should excite in the breasts of
its spectators, those sentiments of virtue and piety so happily portrayed in
the figures." St. John’s Church
was very alert for the preservation of this remarkable piece of arts with
utmost care. Calcutta St. John’s Church
society wanted this painting outside the Church premises for better
viewer-ship, the appeal of Dalhousie Institute in 1865, in this regard, was
turned down by Church Authority. Calcutta
In 1888, the decadent condition of this art piece was reported through a letter published in The Statesman, immediate attention for preservation was again brought the piece almost in its original state where it remains till date as an Altar-piece.
John Zoffany went back to
in 1790. The tropical heat of England Asia provided
him enough fortune but certainly had a toll on his remarkable talent. His uncanny skill was missing for last twenty years of his carrier. His last
exhibition in had taken place in
1800. Around this time the artist made another of his notorious black humor, by
the way of “The Last Supper” which is till date preserved in Royal
Academy St. George's Church,
. This time, Zoffany himself
figures as St Peter, a strong full face with small grey beard; and the face of Brenford, England is a portrait of
the painter's young wife; whom he married on his return from abroad. The
Apostles were painted from local fishermen. John Zoffany died in St. John
in 1810. Kew, England
The Last Supper as painted by John Zoffany and presented to St. George Church, Brentford, England (Courtesy: John Zoffany R A His Life And Works, 1735-1810 by Lady Victoria Manners and DR. G. G. Williamson)
Today’s busy Kolkata office-goers use to park their vehicles in the courtyard of
; seldom, any of them pays a visit
to the inside of the Church. St. Johns Church
Time had changed, British had left, the most discussed characters of yester-years went to oblivion, the politics of Warren Hastings or Lord Wellesley has become a part of history book, anything you want to know nowadays is at the click of mouse, a picture you want to see is now on your screen of computer within a second through internet.
But, the Master- piece of John Zoffany presented to Calcutta Christian society remain as it is, inside the church, in front of which viewers till have an uncanny awe mixed surprise.
Is it a waste of time to pay a visit to
to watch Zoffany’s “The Last Supper”? Our feeling, it is worth. Calcutta
St. John’s Church
Think, an era, when there is no camera, till show biz people wanted to have a picture of their famous stage show as an advertisement, you had many remarkable moments with your friends & relatives, people of old time also wanted it like today’s man to frame that particular moment, you can not visit the Art Gallery of distant Country but likes to have a feel for the same, you are setting up an institution, likes to preserve the identity of its founding members –to answer to all these wishes of the-then London society the key was John Zoffany, whose artistic foil resembles the light & shade of a photographic vividness with an element of European melodrama which was persistent at his time.
Such a Master’s work in your own city certainly deserves a visit, if you accept him as a personality of first international repute, who had been in Calcutta & left an worth art work much before Rabindra Nath Tagore & Satyajit Ray were born in Calcutta.
If you think it is just an awe of colonial subjection, at least have a glimpse of
of this portrait
& thought on the way back, was that a lady? St. John
If you are not at all willing to be in St. John Church for any of the above reasons; spent there five minutes of your valuable time in front of the Master-Piece & think over this pictorial representation of this Biblical Gospel which has excited so many painters from the date eternal; till date coming up with new analysis all over the world but the basic story of love, betrayal, forgiveness & submission are still remain as elements of everybody’s life.
We are indebted to the works of Old Good Days of John Company by W H Carey (Published-1882), Calcutta Past & Present by Kathleen Blechynden (Published-1905), John Zoffany R A- His Life & Works 1735-1810 by Lady Victoria Manners & Dr. G. G. Williamson (Published-1920) & Wikipedia. All these works are approachable through internet, if any body reads these books, we will feel, the justice is not only done to John Zoffany but also to those passionate writers of past who does not had the privilege of internet at their disposal, like the way we have as on date.
Our common wave length is love of history but we are not historian. Historical truths are well established within a scholarly society & for others it may be just some pages of forgotten text book, which, when they get rid off, are satisfied.
We are a group of people who likes by gone era & tries to build up the story of the old days with utmost sincerity, based on our limited resource. We shall welcome to be enriched by any further information on the subject matter to our inbox:
Research - Abhijnan Basu.