Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper (c. 1495) is one of the most readily recognized and reproduced images in the world. Yet as commonplace as the scene has become, artists are still finding ways to make it new—by experimenting with different mediums, for example.
Here are ten playful renditions of The Last Supper, most of which were created in the last two decades. All save one are compositional copies of Leonardo’s version, but instead of tempera, these artists used basic foods, household items, toys, or the walls of their workplace to create their masterpieces.
I’ve tried to order them from earliest to most recent, though some guesswork was involved, as not all of them are dated.
10. Out of rock salt
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
This bas-relief is located in the Chapel of Saint Kinga, a place of worship located 330 feet underground in the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland. Excavation for this 10,400-square-foot chamber started in 1896 and continued until 1963 and was the work of three individual miners (Antoni Wyrodek and brothers Józef and Tomasz Markowski), who did it all in their spare time.
Not only are the wall decorations carved from salt—the entire chapel is, too: floor, ceiling, altar, statues, and even the chandeliers! The chapel is named after the patron saint of Poland, a thirteenth-century Hungarian woman who married a Polish prince, after whose death she gave away all her money and possessions to the poor and joined the Poor Clares.
The same three men who excavated the space also created the art inside. Wyrodek’s Last Supper is only one of several wall carvings in the chapel depicting the life of Christ. I love how the livelihood of these men was mining, and yet God used them in that secular vocation to create a thing of physical and spiritual beauty, a place where they and their coworkers could take a break from their labor to pay private devotion to God.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is visited by over a million people each year. To view more photos of the mine art or to learn more about its history, visit its tourist site. There are also some good photos here and here.
9. Out of postage stamps
I couldn’t find any information about this one. It’s possible that the artist is James Butman of Springfield, Mass., since I know that some of his stamp art has been acquired by Ripley’s, but I’m not positive. From the looks of the detail image, there were definitely other materials used to create color and shape besides just stamps. I see also that the stamps are Belgian, but I’m not sure who the depicted figures are, or whether they bear any significance to the work’s meaning. I would assume that they’re intentional, but what associations they have to the Last Supper I don’t know. Or maybe they were just used because they’re monochromatic. Any ideas?
8. Out of toast
Jesus’ face on toast is nothing new—but a 280-piece toast canvas certainly is. This choice of medium (bread) is a fitting one for the Last Supper, seeing as Christians all over the world commemorate the event by partaking of bread together, which Christ said represents his body which is broken for us. Although the artist probably meant the piece partly as a joke, poking fun at all the Jesus sightings in food that happen the world over, he or she probably also had in mind the biblical association of bread with the sacrament of the Eucharist, and with life itself.
In terms of the creation process, the artist most likely used stencils and a blowtorch to create varying shades of light and dark on the bread slices.
7. Out of chocolate sauce
Photo credit: pearlalbino.com
New York-based Brazilian artist Vik Muniz has been working in unconventional mediums—dust, sugar, caviar, diamonds, trash, spaghetti, etc.—since the 1980s. He’s interested in “the art of illusion.” When people view his art, he says, there’s usually an initial moment of recognition (of a familiar face or artwork), and then there’s a focusing in to see what it is actually making up the picture. In the case of The Last Supper, that’s Bosco chocolate syrup.
Like a lot of modern artists, Muniz likes to draw more attention to the process of creating than to the actual final product: “I don’t want people to simply see a representation of something. I want them to feel how it happens. The moment of that embodiment is what I consider a spiritual experience.”
Other pieces in his Pictures of Chocolate series include The Reader (after Fragonard), The Kiss (after Rodin), The Raft of the Medusa (after Gericault), Action Photo (after the 1950 Jackson Pollock photo by Hans Namuth), a portrait of Freud, and many more.
This series is lighter in tone than his other more socially conscious pieces whose themes beg serious consideration. For example, in 1996, on a visit to St. Kitts, he photographed some Caribbean children whose parents worked on sugar plantations. He noticed how happily and freely they played on the beaches, while their parents were so weary and bitter because of the backbreaking labor they had had to endure for so long, and for such a meager salary. Muniz was heartbroken by the realization that the parents’ lot would soon become the children’s. When Muniz returned to the New York, he created portraits based on the photos he took by arranging sugar on black paper. He called the series “Sugar Children.” It depicts the irony that it is sugar that will take the sweetness out of the children in St. Kitts.
Muniz also calls attention to poverty and suffering through his 2008 Pictures of Garbage series, in which traveled to Brazil to photograph catadores (government-paid garbage pickers) as Renaissance Madonnas, sowers (Jean Francois Millet), or Marat dead in the bathtub (Jacques Louis-David), posing among plastic bottles, toilet seats, and broken car parts. “What I want to be able to do is to change the lives of people with the same materials they deal with every day,” he says.
His work is amazing and well worth checking out: VikMuniz.net.
6. Out of butter
Photo credit: Lane Kennedy / Corbis, via The Daily Beast
OK, so this one’s not based on Leo’s painting, but I thought I’d include it anyway, since it definitely fits the bill for uniqueness. Norma “Duffy” Lyon, who passed away this June at age 81, had created butter sculptures for the Iowa State Fair for almost 50 years. She was best known for depicting cows—a different breed each year—but she would sometimes attempt human portraits—of Obama, John Wayne, and Tiger Woods, for example. The Last Supper was by far her largest and most ambitious work.
I believe that the butter is sculpted around a wire frame, and then kept in a refrigerated case. I’m not sure what became of this piece after its exhibition, as it’s likely too big to be preserved in any freezer!
5. Out of spiderwebs
Photo credit: christiNYCa
This is another one that I could find very little information about. I know only that it was made out of 22 pounds of spiderwebs. I imagine that Ramos somehow wove them together to form a canvas (or stretched them across a canvas?), and then painted on top of them. The effect is a very earthy, dreary-toned image—appropriate for a depiction of someone’s last meal, and especially for this particular moment of the episode, in which Jesus has just announced that someone among the twelve of them is going to betray him.
After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.” His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. (John 13:21-22)
Enrique Ramos is best known for his candy portraits (Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Eminem, the Beatles), but he has also made works out of dead butterflies and cow dung.
4. Out of spools of thread
Photo credit: Devorah Sperber
“I am interested in the link between art and technology, how the eyes prioritize, and reality as a subjective experience vs. an absolute truth. As a visual artist, I cannot think of a topic more stimulating and yet so basic, than the act of seeing—how the human brain makes sense of the visual world.”—Devorah Sperber
This piece is awesome, and it’s actually what inspired this post. I saw it a few weeks ago on CBS Sunday Morning News Magazine, in a feature about the opening of a new art museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, funded by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton. Devorah Sperber’s After the Last Supper is one of the highlights of the collection.
To create this piece, Sperber strung over 20,000 spools of thread in adjacent columns to create an inverted abstraction of Leonardo’s Last Supper. When viewed with the naked eye, the work just looks like a bunch of obliquely hung spools. (From farther away, one can start to see the image, but it’s upside down.) But when seen through the viewing sphere, the abstracted image is rotated 180 degrees, its “pixels” shrunk and condensed into a recognizable image. That’s optics for you.
Sperber said that she learned where to place each spool by manipulating and translating a digital photograph of The Last Supper into a low resolution with pixels: “While many contemporary artists employ digital technology to create high-tech works, I strive to dumb down technology by using mundane materials and low-tech, labor-intensive assembly processes. I place equal importance on the recognizable image as a whole and on how individual parts function as abstract elements.”
Sperber’s other thread spool works include After Grant Wood, John Lennon (Self-Portrait), The Subway Grate and Marilyn, Spock, After Monet, and more. Ever the experimenter, she has also created works out of shower curtains, pipe cleaners, marker and pen caps, map tacks, and faceted beads. Check them out at her website: DevorahSperber.com.
3. Out of vegetables
Photo credit: Paris-Beijing Gallery
When Chinese artist Ju Duoqi plays with her food, it turns out looking like this. Duoqi made her first piece of vegetable art in 2006. Bored at home, she decided to start peeling peas, stringing them onto wire, shaping them into a skirt, top, and headdress, and then photograph herself wearing them.
Because vegetables come in an array of colors, shapes, and textures, they make for a rich source of imagery, Duoqi says. Whenever she goes to the market, she tries to envision different combinations and spatial arrangements in her mind before making a purchase. She then goes home and spends roughly two weeks on a single piece of art, shaping her subjects with a knife and assembling them with toothpicks. To get the look she wants, she oftentimes has to prepare the vegetables by boiling them, frying them, pickling them, or waiting for them to rot and wither.
“I am happy that I have found a way of life for women who love the home,” Duoqi says. “I have found an environmental way of bringing work and life together. From imagination to reconstruction and postproduction, it burns through tons of boring hours.”
After she’s done photographing her creations, she either tosses them out or eats them.
To view Duoqi’s other work (most of which are adaptations of classic works of art, and are not only chuckle-inducing but are truly stunning), visit her website, JuDuoqi.com.
2. Out of Rubik’s Cubes
Photo credit: Courtesy of Josh Chalom, via Popped Culture
Cube Works Studio is a collaboration of graphic artists who create complex pieces of art made entirely of Rubik’s Cubes. The architects will pixelate a digital image, similar to what Sperber does with her spool art; translate the color of the pixels into red, green, and blue; and then divide the image into panels.
The “cubers” take over from there, each one assigned their own panels. Most of the cubers are high-school-aged and compete in speedcubing competitions, so they can each solve a cube in less than 15 seconds. The cubers arrange the cubes so that they match the digital printout. (Contrary to what some have supposed, the artists do not take the cubes apart or move the stickers, as that would just take even longer.)
As each panel is completed, it is placed into its grid-marked space on the floor, then glued to its adjacent panels. This one is a whoppin’ 45 cubes x 90, or about 8 x 17 ft., second in size only to The Hand of God (Michelangelo), which measures 14.5 x 28.9 ft.
1. Out of dryer lint
Photo credit: Anthony Scipio, Ripley Entertainment, Inc.
When Ripley’s bought this piece from home health aid Laura Bell in January 2011, it received national media attention. According to the Associated Press, Bell spent an estimated 700 to 800 hours just doing laundry (all in her own laundry room), and 200 hours creating the finished product: a 56-square-foot Last Supper lint work! To get the hues just right, Bell experimented with different colored towels. She says that she did not dye any of the lint.
Do you know of any other Last Supper artworks that use unconventional materials? Please do share!