‘The last supper’, painted by Leonardo Da Vinci, 1494-1497
First of all, they are seated at the same side of the table, they are one group; on the same side.
They are seated at a rectangular table, this kind of table is what is called (in nonverbal communication) – hierarchical table, usually the most important person would sit at the top and the rest in a decreasing order until the other end, where the least important are seated. But they are seated in what is called: ‘democratic’ way of seating, they are seated shoulder to shoulder, next to each other (being together), Jesus is seated among of his pupils, almost as one of them. This might show that his leadership is not a dominant one, but is inclusive.
Upon a closer look – all the 12 pupils are divided into four little groups of three:
The three people on the right.
The three people (adding Jesus) in the middle.
The three people next to Jesus’ right hand.
And the last three on the far left of the table.
This gives a feeling of inner division, there are four little groups with no communication between them, and each one is very involved within his own little group.
They are very busy within themselves but their hands are reaching towards Jesus’s direction. This shows their double relation to Jesus; on one hand, their hands are almost begging to reach him, but on the other hand, they are too busy in what looks like a hot argument, the only peaceful figure is Jesus.
He, nevertheless, is the leading figure, for he sits right at the center with a little space around him, (they give him space and respect), but they are not with him, they are in the intimate space of each other, they are totally in the social scene. This lack of space is used to convey an overall theme of chaos and overlap.
Movement: they are all in intense, even heated dynamic movements, there is a lot of active energy bursting out of them, comparing to them, Jesus is motionless, still, peaceful, no movement at all (his intensity is in his inner life, so the outside of him, could remain in stillness).
They all relate to each other (within their mini-groups) but Jesus is the only one who is not relating to any of them, he seems to be deep in self-contemplation, in his body language, he is with eyes shut and with both hands in open gesture (far away from each other), with the inside of his palms in a position of reception from above. He is the only one who doesn’t communicate, he is elsewhere, his closed eyes say that he is deep in himself.
Contrary to Jesus who is totally in himself, they are almost totally with (and almost within…) each other, no inner peace or spirituality on their face and body, they resemble sellers in an open market…
So, Jesus is not being related to almost at all, (except the three on his left) but he seems not to mind, he is at peace in the middle of these noisy arguing little groups.
They are so busy in their own arguments until Jesus is almost forgotten.
Most of the hands are moving powerfully in the air; (heated emotions), they are far away from being at peace with each other and with themselves.
What is interesting about their hand is the quality of their gestures; these are not soft or round formation gestures, the fingers are pointing, as stubbing the air, meaning, that there is some aggression and threat in the air. Again, they are so different from the open, soft and receiving posture, of his visible palms, receiving from above.
Actually, the ‘atmosphere’ of their body language is very much Middle Eastern; many hand movements, the close proximity in body space, and by their face, you could almost hear them shouting…
There could be another explanation to their heated body language- It is very possible that Christ just told them that one of them will betray him before sunrise, (“One of you is about to betray me”, Matthew 26:21 ). And in response, their faces show different degrees of horror, anger, and shock.
But not all the little groups are the same, there are three people on his left, which not like the others, are with their face and body turned towards Jesus. Meaning: only one-third of his pupils is taking notice of him.
They are the only ones who are not heated or aggressive. They are close to him not only physically, but also in their body language (their being). They are the only group that relates to him.
The closest to him is a person who raises his index finger as though he asks permission to speak. In the middle, there is a figure of a man with totally open arms, just like Jesus himself, (mirroring: empathy) as though he wants to hug him.
Next to him, there is a figure of a woman. (Maria Magdalena?). She is leaning forward, towards Jesus, her expression is soft and gentle. Her hands are in a gesture of honesty and confession, as though she wants to say something from the depth of her heart, or cry (her mouth is slightly open). She looks so vivid and yet so gentle. Contrary to the men, she is very feminine, almost motherly.
This little group balances the vulgarity and self-centeredness of the other small groups.
Everyone is intensely involved; they are involved heavily with each other, and Jesus is involved in his own world and the world above.
It seems that they neglect him already, they are not with him, and they are too excited. But he doesn’t seem to mind, he is not part of their hot outer involvement.
Nothing from the serenity of Jesus is in them, they are on another level, seem to be divorced from the Holy Spirit, and deep into sizzling daily life.
Observing their body language – they seem to be lost in a subjective emotional state. The emotions range from protest to sadness, love, fear, indignation, or grief – to acceptance (that of Jesus), he is completely neutral, not leaning to his left, nor his right, he is very balanced.
What is mostly lacking in this scene is: harmony, all the pupils are very disharmonious, the only harmonious figure is that of Jesus.
Division is the most fitting word to describe the atmosphere, there is division between themselves, and all of them are divided from Jesus, by the total difference and the complete opposition of their body language.
The only spiritual figure in the room is Jesus, they are all very much down to earth, and he is connecting from his inside to his heavenly father.
This is a tragedy, for in few hours he is going to be killed, one of them will betray him, and in the meanwhile, they already are not with him, their little emotional preoccupation is removing them from his spiritual world.
It doesn’t matter if the reason for their negative emotional state is what Jesus had said just now, or if it is an authentic picture of their state and level of spirituality. One way or the other, they are not with him, and he is not with them.
It seems that Da Vinci was not taken by blind admiration to the spiritual leader and his ‘holy’ Apostles, he sees them as they are; a heavy weight on Jesus’s mission, instead of total support to him. He sees them in their human weaknesses, and thus portraying the great tragedy of his mission: he is totally alone.