the last supper by brigitte niedermair
last supper

The History

Brigitte Niedermair’s Last Supper is a work that is simultaneously poetic and provocative, both redemptive and appeasing. It is one of the best examples of how art, which inverts meanings and invents languages, is able to be a both a prophecy and a warning of one of the most important themes of our contemporary world: the role of women. By referencing Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, Brigitte Niedermair has revisited The Last Supper from a female perspective, thus creating a new aesthetic model – and with it, a new symbol.

Brigitte Niedermair is a courageous woman: like Warhol, but with more content and a sense of ethics, she wanted to touch one of the most important art works of all time. While Leonardo represents the most dramatic moment of the Gospel, that is when Jesus announces the betrayal of one of the apostles by saying, "Verily I say to you, one of you shall betray me", Niedermair conveys the central role of women in everyday life. It’s a great tribute to the creative power of women: a tribute to those who give life to the world, to those who are often victims of violence and abuse, and who deal with the pain even to the point of becoming a symbolic object of collective sacrifice.

The piece has been the subject of great controversy. Initially created in 2005 as part of a Marithé + François Girbaud campaign (AIR Agency, Paola Balestreri and Tho van Tran), it was immediately recognised as a work of high artistic value. Despite this, it has been a target of censorship. In France, bishops have publicly denounced the image and blocked the poster campaign calling it "offensive to Catholics." The Italian advertising authority bluntly stated that it "damages morals". So, it was never released except to the press, as a cultural interest story. It was the same in the U.S. and in other European countries. Fortunately, Last Supper is used to counter the very idea of censorship in textbooks for schools in Italy, Germany, and France; it is cited in the history of art as an intelligent and evocative example of a new way of seeing the world. There are no “damaged morals” in the world of education, quite the opposite, indeed.

The work deserves a close look because it reflects the work of Leonardo philologically but is also the product of an attentive re-reinterpretation that Dan Brown described in his The Da Vinci Code: that Mary Magdalene was also in attendance at the Last Supper, hidden in John’s feminine appearance. Niedermair turns this concept on its head by inserting a male presence in the work and, as Leonardo did in the original, a knife, in such a way that the viewer does not know who holds it. In addition, there is a tangle of legs that does not correlate to the number of characters represented. Within all this, many other symbols appear: the dove, the washing of the feet, the broken bread, an open fig, and the fish in front of the Christ Woman. Lastly, there is an element of modernity: a radio, as if to say that if the event took place today it would surely be recorded by an electronic device.

Of course, it must be stressed that Brigitte Niedermair has, through this work of art, given breath to the multitude of women who have no voice. The piece also expounds on one of the most exalted voices in all Christianity: that of Pope John Paul I, when he made his powerful statement, "God is woman".

Last Supper is an image of peace and hope. In reflection of the many controversies surrounding the Brigitte Niedermair’s work of art, the words of Erri de Luca come to mind: "The male gender envies the female power of procreation. It has carved out power, war, politics, and spaces to govern for itself in the face of the immensity of bearing life. The female reproduces the work of creation. It is the time of mothers.”


© Brigitte Niedermair
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