Exercise #11 – Answers

The Last Supper, Plautilla Nelli ( c. 1550), Oil on canvas, Santa Maria Nouvella Museum, Florence

Q1. What do you see in this painting?

A1. There is a group of men seated at a table with a white/cream coloured tablecloth with multiple creases where it had been folded. There is food on the table—round loaves of bread, goblets of wine and wine glasses– as well as a round metal container at each end containing what looks like mussels. A similar container in front of the central figure appears to contain some kind of small animal.

Q2. How many people are in the painting and judging by their clothes, what era do you think it was painted in?

A2. There are thirteen men in the painting of varying ages, the majority with black or grey beards. The full length tunics of different colours reach the feet, are fastened at the waist by a belt all of which is covered by a loose-flowing outer cloth in a contrasting colour. All are barefooted. This type of clothing was seen in early historical times.

Q3. What is different about one of the figures?

A3. The figure seated to the left of centre, dressed in red and green is the only one placed on the opposite side of the long table where he is seen in three-quarter view. He is also the only figure that does not have a halo and he is holding a small yellow pouch gathered with a string in his left hand, held beneath the table’s edge.

Q.4. How do you interpret the different gestures?

A4. There is a variety: Four figures from left to right with one or two palms raised seem to express a kind of denial, presumably in reaction to something that has been said; the third figure on the left gestures to ask the man beside him if he has heard? Other figures put one hand to their chest as if to ask: me? Others put their hands into the praying position while the man on the extreme left points his right index finger towards the man seated on the opposite side of the table. One figure, fourth from the right, does not gesture, remaining with both hands resting on top of each other on the table.


Plautilla Nelli (1524-88) was a Renaissance artist, who was also a nun, and the first recognised female painter of Florence. This is her largest work and the only painting of the subject by a woman at the time. It is 7 metres (21 feet ) long, and signed (a rarity at this time): “Orate pro pictora/Pray for the paintress.” She has recently been ‘rediscovered’ in Florence.

The painting depicts the moment (recounted in the Bible) after Christ has said to the Apostles: “One of you will betray me.” Judas, the betrayer, is the figure without a halo, holding the pouch of thirty pieces of silver.