In a passage of John’s Gospel, Jesus, after having given Judas Iscariot a morsel to eat, says to him: “What you do, do quickly” (13.27). It is a key moment of the Last Supper. The apostles do not understand; they believe it has something to do with the shop the traitor manages. Perhaps they thought he was being asked to buy something for the party. Judas leaves, the talk thickens, and that last encounter winds down. Jesus, the synoptic gospels recall, institutes the Eucharist. Usually we imagine the table with Jesus at the centre and the apostles next to him, perhaps because of Leonardo’s fresco in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. Gestures, positions, even the dynamic of the figures can be calculated through mathematics. Everyone has meaning, a place that has almost been fixed at the beginning of time, and every move foreshadows the miracle that is about to take place with the bread and wine. For biblical exegesis of Leonardo’s time, the invitees to the Lord’s supper had not yet left the Last Supper and, through faith and the Church, they continued to reflect on a gesture that upset history; in our day however, it is difficult to say what is happening in that hall which Mark and Luke describe as large and decorated, and located on the upper floor. Perhaps more people have entered that place than were called to do so; perhaps it is now empty. Velasco has chosen the latter hypothesis. The table of the Lord’s Supper is bare, there is no food, there are no people; who knows what has happened to the disciples, and Jesus is not there. Only a dog has earned a place in the scene and in front of him there are fragments of the bread later transformed into the body of Christ. Yes a dog, crucial to the design, with the morsel in front of him. White dominates the space. It is a chromatic embrace that can be inferred, according to the view: at one moment it is a symbol of emptiness, at another, a device to describe the infinite. The “coaccorgimenena” in Latin means a main meal. It was served when work finished and so could extend well into the evening. It was a space in which to come together and get to know one another, and not only to partake of food; time had little importance. In the Last Supper these features are all there. We have to imagine it with the chatter, the sound of crockery, the colours of tranquillity. This is the very point: to the contemporary world, what is left of that encounter in Jerusalem? Does the Eucharist — in Greek it means “gratitude” and “thanks” — which in the early centuries of Christianity became the centre of faith and culture, continue to move the world? Does it continue to perturb the world like it did on that night before Easter? Before attempting a response, look at what is left of the Last Supper in this painting by Velasco.
The apostles are no longer there, and neither is Jesus. The large decorated hall is now bare. We have to imagine the miracle with the aid of other scenes preserved in memory. Perhaps the words uttered in that place have been lost in the white. A dog, the faithful animal par excellence, is the only sign of life. Did everyone leave like Judas because they were busy, or because they were no longer interested in what was happening? Jesus’ supper is at the basis of Christianity, and we are deserting it, not because we do not believe in a miracle or in the message of love transformed into body and blood, but for the simple fact that our indifference has prevailed. The world has entered that hall, but now it is difficult to find someone. Or perhaps that miraculous meal has been lost to contemporary society and we are no longer able to understand it? How can one respond?
Velasco offers the scene as it is today. The rest, or better still, what remains of that famous encounter, can be sought only through faith.