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LEONARDO’S INCESSANT LAST SUPPER: THE TWELVE

by Leo Steinberg

How do we know who is who? Leonardo individualized his dramatis personae, but neglected to label them. Accordingly, by the end of the eighteenth century, when the mural had fallen into irreversible ruin, the traditional appellations that must once have been common knowledge were no longer remembered. With the revival of interest in the Cenacolo, two variant roll calls emerged –to be swept aside by one of Giuseppe Bossi’s discoveries. In the parish church of Ponte Capriasca near Lake Lugano, Bossi examined an unsigned, mid-sixteenth-century fresco copy of Leonardo’s Cenacolo. On that fresco, fallibly attributed to Pietro Luini, Bossi found the twelve names inscribed on a frieze beneath the table, and he confirmed the identifications by a descriptive analysis of each figure. From his presentation, by way of Goethe and Stendhal, the Ponte Capriasca nomenclature attained general currency. (Modern attempts to reshuffle remain unpersuasive; they are laid to rest in App.C.)

     Well then, quickly from left to right.

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