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Andrea del Castagno, Last Supper, 1447, fresco, Sant'Apollonia, Florence
Travel guide for Tuscany

Andrea del Castagno, Last Supper, 1447


The first Renaissance refectory in Florence is the one belonging to the Benedictine nuns of Sant'Apollonia, created around 1445 in one of the most florid periods of the convent.
There are no lines at this former convent and no crowds. Few people even know to ring the bell at the nondescript door. What they're missing is an entire wall covered with the vibrant colors of Andrea del Castagno's masterful Last Supper.

In 1447 Andrea del Castagno [1] worked in the refectory of Sant'Apollonia in Florence, painting, in the lower part, the Last Supper fresco, accompanied by other scenes portraying the Deposition, Resurrection, and Crucifixion, which are now damaged. He also painted a lunette in the cloister, depicting a Pietà.

The end wall of the refectory (9.75x9.10 m) was decorated with frescoes, althongh these were never discovered due to the nuns strict enclosure.
The suppression of the convent in 1860 revealed the existence of only one fresco representing the Last Supper (the upper section had been whitewashed), which was initially attributed to Paolo Uccello and then to the real author Andrea del Castagno (1421-1457), who worked on it after his return from Venice in 1444. Castagno used his paint to create the rich marble panels that checkerboard the trompe-l'oeil walls and broke up the long white tablecloth with the dark figure of Judas the Betrayer, whose face is painted to resemble a satyr, an ancient symbol of evil.

Other three frescoes were discovered above this one, representing respectively the Resurrection, Crucifixion and Entombment of Christ. At the time of the restoration in 1952, the three frescoes were removed to be preserved, thus allowing the recovery of the splendid sinopites.

The Last Supper displays del Castagno's talents at his best. The arrangement of balanced figures in an architectural setting is particularly noted. For instance, Saint John's posture of innocent slumber neatly contrasts Jude the Betrayer's tense, upright pose, and the hand positions of the final pair of apostles on either end of the fresco mirror each other with accomplished realism. The colors of the apostles' robes and their postures contribute to the balance of the piece.

Cenacolo of Sant’Apollonia with the Famous Men and Women by Andrea del Castagno, photograph from the beginning of the nineteenth century.
Luchinat and Rosanna Caterina Proto Pisani, ed. La tradizione fiorentina dei cenacoli. Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze, 1997, p. 107.

The Cycle of Illustrious Men and Women is a work in fresco by Andrea del Castagno, painted for the Villa Carducci and Filippo Carducci between 1448 and 1451. Today the frescoes are divided between the Uffizi Gallery (frescoes of panels of distinguished men and women) and the Villa Carducci itself.
The cycle was once covered with white plaster and was rediscovered in 1847 when the Grand Duke Leopold II bought the frescoes and had them removed. After being exhibited in the Museum Bargello in 1865, the detached frescoes were transferred to the museum Cenacolo di Sant'Apollonia. After the flood in Florence in 1966, they were again removed, to arrive at the Uffizi in 1969 where they were placed in the former church of San Pier Scheraggio. The hall of the deconsecrated church is now open only by appointment.
Andrea del Castagno (1423-1457) was well known for the emotional expressionism and naturalism of his figure style. It is often said that his Last Supper fresco exudes his greatest talent for balance between human figure and architecture. He stayed highly active in his later years, painting the his well known Famous Men and Women, in the Villa Carducci, displaying great minds such as Spano, Uberti, Dante and Boccaccio. In these larger-than-life–size series of portraits for a loggia of the Villa Carducci Pandalfini at Legnaia, Castagno broke with earlier styles and displayed more than mere craftsmanship. He portrayed movement of body and facial expression, creating dramatic tension. Castagno brought to painting what Banco and Donatello brought to sculpture for Florentine artists. This influence carried great weight through the Renaissance, finding a masterful pinnacle in the work of Michelangelo.

All scholars agree in praising the sobre architectural structure of the room where the scene of the Last Supper is taking place: a room in the austere style of Alberti, with the lavish coloured marble panels functioning as a backdrop to the heavy and solemn scene of the banquet. Notice also the beauty of some of the minor details, such as the gold highlights in some of the characters' hair or the haloes depicted in perfect perspective.
The detail and naturalism of this fresco portray the ways in which del Castagno departed from earlier artistic styles. The highly detailed marble walls hearken back to Roman "First Style" wall paintings, and that the pillars and statues recall Classical sculpture and preface trompe l'oeil painting. Furthermore, the color highlights in the hair of the figures, flowing robes, and a credible perspective in the halos foreshadow advancements to come.


The influence of Domenico Veneziano's painting is strong in the decoration of the refectory of Sant'Apollonia which Andrea painted between June and October 1447. He solved the problem posed by the height of the refectory walls in Sant'Apollonia by using the old method of arranging the scenes in two rows, one above the other, but he gave them a visual unity: the Stories of Christ's Passion frescoed on the upper level are in fact conceived as taking place in a space behind the room where the Last Supper on the lower level is happening.

The Last Supper displays del Castagno's talents at his best. The arrangement of balanced figures in an architectural setting is particularly noted. For instance, Saint John's posture of innocent slumber neatly contrasts Jude the Betrayer's tense, upright pose, and the hand positions of the final pair of apostles on either end of the fresco mirror each other with accomplished realism. The colors of the apostles' robes and their postures contribute to the balance of the piece.

The treatment of the Last Supper was a serious challenge for Renaissance painters, who had to depict thirteen figures while retaining diversity and interest. For this scene, Castagno created an engaging space with imitation marble wall plaques and the sharply foreshortened floor and ceiling. The figures are arranged behind a long narrow table, with the exception of the Apostle at each end and Judas Iscariot isolated on the front side. The central group, composed of four figures, Judas, Christ, Peter, and John, is visually emphasized by a dramatically coloured red marble slab.

An extraordinary element of this fresco is the remarkable balance of gestures and expressions, particularly in the group of figures in the centre of the composition, where the innocent sleep of St John to the left of Jesus is contrasted to the tense, rigid figure of Judas sitting opposite.






The treatment of the Last Supper was a serious challenge for Renaissance painters, who had to depict thirteen figures while retaining diversity and interest. For this scene, Castagno created an engaging space with imitation marble wall plaques and the sharply foreshortened floor and ceiling. The figures are arranged behind a long narrow table, with the exception of the Apostle at each end and Judas Iscariot isolated on the front side. The central group, composed of four figures, Judas, Christ, Peter, and John, is visually emphasized by a dramatically coloured red marble slab.

Christ in the Sepulchre with Two Angels

The fresco of Christ in the Sepulchre with Two Angels was painted in the cloister of Sant'Apollonia. Here, as in the other frescoes, the composition is dominated by the perfect balance between the accurate geometrical construction and the genuine participation in the dramatic event.

The splendid synopia which was discovered when the fresco was detached from the wall is today on exhibit alongside the fresco itself.

Andrea del Castagno, Christ in the Sepulchre with Two Angels (synopia), 1447, fresco in Sant'Apollonia, Florence


[1] Andrea del Castagno (Italian, before 1419 - 1457)
| The exact birth date of Andrea di Bartolo di Simone, called Andrea del Castagno, is not known; formerly estimated around 1390 on the basis of Vasari's indications, it has been established as shortly before 1419 by recent research. Andrea was born in a village in the Mugello area near Florence now called Castagno d'Andrea, and was probably trained in Florence. He was well enough known there in 1440 to receive the commission to paint, on the facade of the Bargello, the members of the Albizzi family and their friends hanging from their heels because they were declared rebels after the battle of Anghiari. For this work, destroyed in 1494, Andrea was given the nickname "Andreino degli Impiccati" (Andy of the Hanged Men).
In 1442 he was in Venice, where with Francesco da Faenza he painted the signed and dated frescoes on the vault of the San Tarasio chapel in the church of San Zaccaria. The stylistically uniform decoration of the chapel, however, leads one to conclude that Francesco's intervention must have been marginal. The Venice murals, the earliest surviving dated work by Andrea, demonstrate his interest in using perspective foreshortening to impart monumentality and physical density to his athletic figures. The murals also show the influence of Paolo Uccello, Filippo Lippi, and above all, Donatello on the young artist.
The following year Andrea was back in Florence, and at the beginning of 1444 he received payment for a cartoon of the Deposition for a window in the drum of the cathedral's dome. In these same years he also painted the Crucifixion with Camaldolese Saints for the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli (now in the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova). On 30 May 1444 he joined the Arte dei Medici e Speziali, and over the next two years received various official commissions for works that have not survived.
The presence in Florence of Domenico Veneziano--who, assisted by Piero della Francesca, worked in the church of Sant'Egidio (1439-1445)--was probably decisive for Andrea. Even without giving credence to Vasari's story about Andrea's envy of Domenico, he was certainly influenced by the latter's clear, luminous palette and rigorous perspective constructions, with solutions often very near to or foreshadowing those of Piero della Francesca. The c. 1444 fresco decoration of the Pazzi chapel in the Villa del Trebbio (some fragments of which are still in situ, whereas the Madonna and Child with Two Saints is now detached and forms part of the Contini-Bonacossi bequest to the Uffizi) brings him another step closer to Domenico Veneziano. An intense, almost Flemish interest in reflected light informed his luminous vision and realistic rendering of detail, reaching its highest point on the west wall of the refectory of the former monastery (now museum) of Sant'Apollonia, where in 1447 Andrea frescoed the Last Supper and episodes from the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. From this period also are the lunette of the Lamentation over the Dead Christ, originally painted above a door of the same monastery, and a Crucifixion with Saints Benedict and Romuald, formerly in the cloister of Santa Maria degli Angeli (both are now detached and in the museum of Sant'Apollonia).
The Assumption of the Virgin between Saints Julian and Minias (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin), painted between 1449 and 1450 for the church of San Miniato fra le Torri in Florence, was followed immediately by the fresco decoration of the large hall of Villa Carducci at Legnaia, with its Famous Men series, datable to 1449-1451. Some fragments of the cycle are still in situ, while the principal figures have been detached and are exhibited in the Uffizi. Between 1451 and 1453 Andrea frescoed three stories from the life of the Virgin in the church of Sant'Egidio, continuing the work begun by Domenico Veneziano; the cycle, completed by Baldovinetti, has since been destroyed. Similarly lost is the fresco of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary Magdalene, commissioned from Andrea in 1455 for the tomb of Orlando de' Medici in the church of Santissima Annunziata, presumably executed shortly after the surviving frescoes in the second and third chapels of the church, with Saint Julian and a Blessing Christ in one, and in the other Saint Jerome between Saints Paula and Eustochium beneath an image of the Holy Trinity.
In 1456 Andrea painted the fresco in Santa Maria del Fiore of the equestrian monument to Niccolò da Tolentino, and in 1457 the Last Supper (lost in 2002) in the refectory of Santa Maria Nuova. Andrea's very intense activity was interrupted by his sudden death, probably from the plague, in 1457. [This is the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue | ]

Art in Tuscany | Last Supper Frescoes of Florence 

Art in Tuscany | Italian Renaissance painting

Eva Maria Lundin, Andrea del Castagno's Last Supper |]
This thesis analyzes Andrea del Castagno’s fresco of the Last Supper in the refectory of Sant’Apollonia, Florence. This study investigates the details of the commission, Castagno’s fresco in the iconographic tradition of representations of the Last Supper, the aspects which separate this Last Supper from previous examples in Florentine refectories, the fresco’s purpose in relation to its conventual setting, and also the artist’s use of both classicizing and contemporary elements and techniques. The central focus of my work is the significance of this fresco in terms of both the imagery Castagno employs and his possible sources. The purpose of this thesis is to recognize the innovative aspects of the fresco, as well as the role that Castagno played in the development of Florentine Renaissance art.

The technique of fresco painting

Sinopia painting

'To create a fresco, the painter began by coating the wall with a layer of plaster, which was made by mixing water with slaked lime, and large-grained river sand. This first layer, about one centimeter thick, is called the arriccio (rendering). The roughness of this surface promotes the adhesion of the second layer of plaster. The artist drew the preparatory drawing directly on this first layer. With a piece of charcoal - easily erasable - he first penciled in the design. Once satisfied with this drawing, he used earth-ochre to trace a second set of lines alongside the charcoal lines. A bunch of feathers was then used to brush away the charcoal lines, and a red earth pigment was used to draw over their faded yellow remnants and to flesh out the details of the representation (folds of drapery, faces, chiaroscuro, etc.). This technique, first introduced in the thirteenth century, was used during most of the fourteenth century for large preparatory drawings. Today sinopia painting is named after the reddish pigment (originally from the city of Sinope) used to execute the technique.
Once the sinopia painting was finished, the actual painting could begin. At this point a new layer of plaster, the ‘intonachino' (thin plaster layer) was spread over one area of the arriccio (rendering) to prepare a perfectly smooth surface to receive the coloring. Intonachino (thin plaster layer) is a thin, transparent layer composed of one part slaked lime and two parts finely-ground sand. It was only applied to the surface area the artist expected to be able to color during one day's work, because the surface must be humid during the coloring phase. Then the painter used a brush to trace over the sinopia painting outline, which remained visible through the thin layer of intonachino (thin plaster layer). At last, he began painting with grounded pigments mixed in water.

The technique of fresco painting consists of painting colour pigments onto a layer of plaster that is still wet or "fresh" as the Italian term fresco suggests.
Walls to be frescoed were normally constructed from a single material, generally stone or brick to prevent damage to the frescoes from any movement in the wall due to settlement.
The artist would begin by applying a layer of plaster, made from a mixture of water, slaked lime, and large-grained river sand, to the wall.
This first layer, known as the arriccio, was applied to a thickness of one centimetre. The surface had to be very rough to allow the second layer of plaster to adhere to it easily.
On top of the arriccio, the outline of the fresco was drawn in charcoal, which was then erased using feathers after a second outline had been applied in ochre. Over the ochre, another outline was added with a red pigment called sinopia, a term which came to be used to describe the preparatory drawings it was used for. Finally, a fine layer of plaster called intonachino or velo was applied. This was transparent and much smoother than the arriccio and was usually made from one part slaked lime and two parts finely-ground sand. The surface had to be perfectly smooth surface and remain wet throughout the entire painting process and was therefore only applied to an area that the artist could complete painting in one day. For this reason, each one of these sections came to be known as a giornata, or 'day's work'.

The painter began by copying the sinopia outline, which showed through from the layer underneath, onto the wet plaster, and then started to paint using ground pigments mixed with water. Faces were usually painted starting with light shades and progressing to darker ones. The opposite technique was used for clothing, in which dark shades followed lighter ones.

Not all pigments could be used. Indeed, when the plaster dries, the lime which it contained causes a chemical reaction called carbonation, which releases heat and can burn plant-based pigments. For this reason, some touching up was often required after the plaster had dried to perfect details. This technique is called a secco, or dry. Blues, too, had to be painted a secco. This was true for both the extremely costly lapis lazuli or ultramarine, and azurite or "German blue". By the mid 15th century, the sinopia technique began to be replaced with preparatory cardboard, or cartone. The drawings were done to a smaller scale on squared paper in the artist's workshop.
A larger-scale grid with the same number of squares was then drawn on a piece of paper the same size as the fresco. The smaller drawing was then copied onto the large one, enlarged square by square. Holes were poked in the large drawing using a big needle and a loosely-woven sack of coal dust was passed over it. This technique, known as spolvero or dusting, resulted in a continuous series of little dots which the artist would join together to create the drawing. During the Renaissance a third method was also developed in which the drawing, enlarged using the grid method, was transferred onto thin paper. This was laid over the fresh plaster and a long nail was used to trace the lines and transfer the composition onto the mortar.
Serena Nocentini | The technique of fresco painting | | Watch the movie

'Strappo' (Detachment)

During the 18th century, new techniques were perfected for the restoration and conservation of ancient works of art, including methods of detaching fresco paintings from walls.
Detachment involves the separating the layer of paint from its natural backing, generally stone or brick, and can be categorized according to the removal technique used.
The oldest method, known as the a massello technique, involves cutting the wall and removing a considerable part of it together with both layers of plaster and the fresco painting itself.
The stacco technique, on the other hand, involves removing only the preparatory layer of plaster, called the arriccio together with the painted surface.
Finally, the strappo technique, without doubt the least invasive, involves removing only the topmost layer of plaster, known as the intonachino, which has absorbed the pigments, without touching the underlying arriccio layer.

In this method, a protective covering made from strips of cotton and animal glue is applied to the painted surface. A second, much heavier cloth, larger than the painted area, is then laid on top and a deep incision is made in the wall around the edges of the fresco.
A rubber mallet is used to repeatedly strike the fresco so that it detaches from the wall. Using a removal tool, a sort of awl, the painting and the intonachino attached to the cloth and glue covering are then detached, from the bottom up.
The back of the fresco is thinned to remove excess lime and reconstructed with a permanent backing made from two thin cotton cloths, called velatini, and a heavier cloth with a layer of glue. Two layers of mortar are then applied; first a rough one and then a smoother, more compact layer.
The mortars make up the first real layer of the new backing. The velatini cloths and the heavier cloth serve only to facilitate future detachments, and are therefore known as the strato di sacrificio, or sacrificial layer.
Once the mortar is dry, a layer of adhesive is applied and the fresco is attached to a rigid support made from synthetic material which can be used to reconstruct the architecture that originally housed the fresco.
After the backing has completely dried, the cloth covering used to protect the front of the fresco during detachment is removed using a hot water spray and decoloured ethyl alcohol.'
Serena Nocentini | The technique of fresco painting | | Watch the movie

This article incorporates text from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, a publication now in the public domain, and uses material from the Wikipedia article Andrea del Castagno, published under the GNU Free Documentation License.


Holiday homes in the Tuscan Maremma | Podere Santa Pia | Artist and writer's residency

Podere Santa Pia
Podere Santa Pia, garden
Piazza della Santissima Annunziata
in Florence
Villa I Tatti
Siena, Duomo


Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence
Florence, San Miniato al Monte
Florence, San Miniato al Monte
The façade and the bell tower of
San Marco in Florence
Florence, Orsan Michele
Florence, San Miniato al Monte

Surroundings of Florence, Tuscany

A day trip from Florence to Fiesole is a must for any visitor to this part of Tuscany in Italy. Aside from the sights of interest within and near Fiesole itself, on a sunny day the view over Florence is spectacularly beautiful. Fiesole can be reached by car or bus, and on foot along narrow walled roads past numerous fine villas, including the Villa Medici at Fiesole.
By the 14th century, rich Florentines had countryside villas in Fiesole, and one of them is the setting of the frame narrative of the Decameron, also Boccaccio wrote the poem Ninfale fiesolano. Robert Browning also mentions "sober pleasant Fiesole" several times in his poem, Andrea del Sarto.
Since the Renaissance, Fiesole started to be renowned as a holiday place for aristocratic and wealthy families. At that time, illustrious Florentine personalities such as Lorenzo the Magnificent, Pico della Mirandola, Giovanni Boccaccio and Poliziano attended this place. The serena stone caves became the economic pivot of this town.
The Cathedral of St. Romulus, in Romanesque style with three aisles, contains the shrine of St. Romulus, the first bishop of Fiesole.
San Domenico is a conventual complex rising between Fiesole and Florence. This is where Giovanni de' Fiesole, also known as Beato Angelico by the lovers of the Renaissance art, lived and studied. The church of San Domenico also makes part of the complex. It was built in the first half of the XV century thanks to a funding by the Florentine noble Barnaba degli Agli, whose family notably contributed to the construction of the whole complex.
The Villa Medici at Fiesole is one of the oldest Renaissance residences with a garden and is also one of the best preserved. The villa was built during the mid fifteenth century when Cosimo the Elder employed Michellozzo di Bartolommeo to design it. Lorenzo the Magnificent turned the residence into a gathering place for artists, philosophers and men of letters.

Scandicci rises on a hilly area placed between the Arno river and the Valley of Pesa. The origin of the town goes back to the Roman Age, even if some historical data would show its importance as a trading centre already in the Hellenic Age.
The origin of the name of Scandicci is doubtful: according to the best hypothesis, the name comes from the Latin verb "scandere" that means "to go up" referring to the highest settlement of the town, that could be gained going up to the close hill.
The official history about the community of Scandicci started on the second half of the eighteenth century under Leopoldo of Lorena's domination. He started a reforming process that built the first communities of Casellina and Torri, and unified all the territory.
Among the most interesting monuments to see in Scandicci we point out here the Badia di San Salvatore a Settimo (Saint Salvatore in Settimo Abbey), the Chiesa di San Martino alla Palma (Saint Martin to the Palm Church), the Parrocchiale di Santa Maria (Saint Mary Parish), the Villa Paserini (Paserini Villa) and the Castello dell'Acciaiolo (Acciaiolo Castle).

The ATAF Florence city bus to Fiesole is Number 7 which runs about every half an hour until almost midnight so that it is possible to remain in Fiesole for dinner. The bus line starts at the SMN main railway station in Florence.

Florence | Transport