Monday, 9 September 2013



The Last Supper (c) Tom Phillips, courtesy Flowers Gallery

The twelve disciples are gathered for their last meal together.  The Gospel story says that Jesus predicts at the supper that he will be betrayed by one of his disciples that very evening, a betrayal which we know will lead to his crucifixion. The room is crowded, men packed together like a crowd waiting on the platform of a railway station. They are snatching a word or two with anyone nearby. No time for a deep theological debate. You can practically hear the babble of a conversation fed by anxiety, excitement and disbelief.

It's a subject which has been painted many times and with great authority.

Tom Phillips' jewel-like work - oil and collage on board - measures a mere 9 x 14 cm. The bottom half of the picture is restless, noisy and challenging. But above are still and silent slabs of colour of great beauty, For some reason I recall Piero della Francesca's The Baptism of Jesus painted in the 1450s. In that painting too the action is concentrated below where several conversations seem to be going on at once. (For a definitve comment about this painting turn to Tom Lubbock's words in The Independent's Great Works link below).  It depicts the moment when Jesus commits himself in public to his earthly ministry, the ministry which will one day lead to The Last Supper - and public execution. 

P.S. I've broken my once-only rule to write again about this artist's work. I featured his painting of Baroness Susan Greenfield  at the National Portrait Gallery (Blog 126) because it's a portrait of astonishing vibrancy. It doesn't keep still, It's made up of 169 drawings, some on paper and some on computer screens, together with short sections of video. Like The Last Supper it  vibrates with colour and movement. 

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