Andy Warhol

Galleria Refettorio delle Stelline

“The Last Supper,” 1986, a series of silkscreened canvases, is Andy Warhol’s last work. It is also the most complex work that he produced in the years after his celebrated silkscreen prints of famous personalities. This time the subject is a famous painting, perhaps the most famous of all: Leonardo da Vinci’s portrayal of the goodbye supper of Christ and his Apostles, The Last Supper, 1495–98, in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie here in Milan. It is ironic that the exhibition of Warhol’s variations on this farewell scene opened just a few days before his death.

Warhol’s “Last Supper” is consistent with his other work in this medium, especially in the choice of an iconic subject that is immediately recognizable and that is very much in the public eye. (The Italian press has focused much attention recently on the restoration of Leonardo’s Last Supper, which is being undertaken for the umpteenth time.) Perhaps because of the stature of his chosen model, Warhol’s final work expresses great commitment, humility, and care.

In this series, Leonardo’s masterpiece is analyzed, taken apart, turned upside down, repeated, tinted, obscured by camouflage, and recomposed. Beginning with a black-and-white photographic image of the mural, these operations are used in different combinations to produce the different variations. There are large horizontal canvases, more than 39 feet long, on which two images of the mural have been silk-screened side by side over a pink or yellow field—the yellow version is curved at its left end, and is mounted on a freestanding curved wall. There is another curved canvas, the same size, that consists of portions of the original image repeated upside down and right side up several times over an orange field. Another large horizontal double image is on a green field overprinted with a military camouflage pattern. Then there are smaller, square versions in which the double image is arranged one above the other, all on pink, blue, green, or yellow fields.

Warhol’s shift to a more painterly style in 1972 (with his portrait of Mao Tse-Tung) was somewhat surprising, given that his photosilkscreen series had been regarded as an attack on painting. Here, however, he used the silkscreen technique of his earlier series as a means of achieving an understanding of the painting of a master. Warhol’s intention seems to have been to penetrate the formal structure of the original, one of the principal vectors of which is linear perspective. There is a deliberate, conceptual manipulation of perspective in this series of works—an aspect that is brought out in the installation—as if his purpose here were to invent and multiply perspectives. The facility with which he usually treated his subjects is held in check. Warhol’s “Last Supper” was created specifically for this exhibition, that is, with the knowledge that it would be shown in this gallery across from the church that contains Leonardo’s mural. Whereas his silkscreens of Marilyn, Jackie, etc., are frames caught by his attention for a brief moment, and in the films such as Empire, all that matters is the idea, in this series his approach is less detached, perhaps because of an ambition to create a dialogue with the original.

Jole de Sanna

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.