PLAUTILLA NELLI’S “LAST SUPPER”

Hi all, this week I wanted to share an exciting find that I stumbled upon while browsing through my Facebook feed. Although there are so many pros and cons with the social media platform, there’s no denying how powerful the accessibility to knowledge is on the internet and, more specifically, through Facebook.

After 450 years, Plautilla Nelli, an Italian nun, has had her rendition of the last supper hung up in a museum. The 23′ long and 6′ high painting poses life-size figures in the style of a traditional depiction of the last supper and was recently move to its permanent home, the Santa Maria Novella Museum in Florence, Italy. Nelli’s painting is said to have been the first depiction of the last supper by a woman (pretty remarkable, right?) and according to her background, she was self-taught.

Conservator Rossella Lari, courtesy of atlasobsucra.com (showing the scale of the piece)

Originally, it was housed in a refectory, a dining room, and the painting reflected the atmosphere of the dining room and the foods the nuns that lived at the Santa Caterina da Siena convent. Karen Chernik, the author of this article, explained more in depth that ” Nelli didn’t paint her “Last Supper” background to look like the dining hall it was designed for, a trick other artists used to make the scene relatable. Instead, she showed Jesus and his apostles dining on the same food that Santa Caterina’s Domincan nuns ate: a whole roasted lamb, bread, wine, heads of lettuce, and fresh fava beans—the last two dishes unprecedented in any depiction of Christ’s last meal. The fava beans were a wink to local cuisine, a Florentine specialty normally eaten by peasants (and nuns)”. It’s personally amazing to me how much Nelli considered her surroundings in wanting to incorporate the day to day life of the nuns in her convent.

detail of Jesus and Saint John, courtesy of atlasobscura.com

Chernik also made the important note highlighting how necessary the inclusion of women has become in considering and talking about masterworks. She wrote that “Giorgio Vasari, the early art historian,” who originally was searching for Nelli’s piece, “saw Nelli’s “Last Supper” when it was still surrounded by dining tables at Santa Caterina. ‘She shows that she would have done marvelous things if she had enjoyed, as men do, opportunities for studying, and devoting herself to drawing and representing living and natural objects,’ he wrote in the 1568 edition of his book Lives of the Artists“. You could only wonder how much more she would’ve accomplished if she had formal schooling. For me, the inclusion of her “Last Supper” in a museum feels like a progressive step towards valuing women’s work as highly as we regard the male master painters.

If you have the time, please make sure to read the full article (https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/first-last-supper-woman-painter-florence ) because it gives more insight into the artist’s life and talks a bit more about the history of the painting. This is a really inspiring story, it’s exciting to have a painting that nobody knew existed to now hang up in a museum on a wall of its own. I hope you all have a great week!

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