Last Supper Art or Outrage?


The Diocese of Würburg, Germany will permanently display a portrayal of the Last Supper by Henning von Glerken in its Cathedral Museum. This contemporary homage to Da Vinci’s Last Supper depicts six women and two children among the dozen apostles. Three adults and all the children are completely naked and one figure has a bare torso. The place for the Savior is not shown, but when visitors sit on a bench, their face is projected on the wall in the place of the Christ.

The director of the art museum, Fr. Jürgen Lenssen, defends the naked figures as being a correct expression of the “wounds of people”. Lenssen praised von Glerken’s triptych as it symbolizes different situations of life. According to Lenssen, “[T]he last supper is anywhere a celebration of life takes place.”

News reports have spuriously claimed that von Glerken’s work received the full approval of Pope Benedict XVI, but if so, what was the Vatican thinking.

Regardless of a papal indult, von Glerken’s opus does raise aesthetic and theological questions. Is this artwork or obscenity? Should the Diocese of Würburg be displaying this work? Is the Last Supper anywhere that a “celebration of life” takes place? How does von Gleken’s Last Supper compare vis-à-vis Leondardo da Vinci’s masterpiece? What does von Gleken’s Last Supper mean to you?

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About dcbarroco

DCBarroco: The surreal musings of a "party animal" living Between the Beltways, whose favorite contact sport may be politics, but who also has interests that are not poll driven, who thinks beyond the next spin cycle and who will caucus with diverse special interest groups.

Posted on March 13, 2012, in Art, Faith, News, World and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Nice post!

    I did some checking on the web concerning the work, and there seems to be near consensus that the work is ‘mere pornography’… In my experience, when a piece of artwork sparks outrage or is simply dismissed or disregarded ‘out of hand’… always seems to be an indication that the artist was probably achieved what they set out to do.

    You are correct in that the painting raises many questions… and some of them would seem difficult to get a closed mind or faith around. So in that regard if nothing else, the work should be viewed as successful. but not really able to get a good look at the picture, it is hard to see what the fuss is about.. Some other blogs suggest that the infant in the lower right is actually aborted and the girl to the right its mother. I really can’t tell from the images that are available to me if that is so. (Perhaps those types of comments are just to pander and or inflame the conservative base…. If so, well nothing new there either) From what I can see, the painting seems to be reasonably well executed and I hope the the primary objection is not simply a bare chested female… cuz, I don’t get the pornography comments.

    In the end, since evidently we are supposed to envision ourselves within the picture or ‘at the supper…’ as the central figure. (and we know who that is!) I would think that the artist was trying to expand people beyond a traditional perception that the Last Supper was merely an historical event to something more active and potentially more relevant…. If so, I can certainly see some good in that.

    • Bill:

      Thanks for your kudos and your thoughtful views.

      I really was not impressed by’von Glerken s work. I recall a mural behind an altar at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Haines City that shows a mixture of men, women and children from various walks of life (including migrant workers) partaking in the Last Supper with Christ. Apologies for the poor quality photo http://www.stannhc.org/content/assets/bottom_image.jpg

      But I’m not sure what von Glerken was doing other than to titillate and épater le bourgeois. So my objection to the nudity was not pornography per se but on its meaninglessness. It is laughable to interpret the nudity as curator Lenssen said that it shows “wounds of the people” as we were created without clothes in the Garden of Eden.

      I am more troubled by transforming Jesus’s role into a projection of our faces. The point of the Paschal Meal was a divine sacrifice of a sinless Lamb of God to atone for the sins of humanity to right mankinds’ relationship with the divine. This was a turning point in salvation history by Jesus (which means Yahweh Saves). Even though it can be asserted that all of the baptized have a little Jesus in us (so to speak), it is vulgar to conjure ourselves in the Epiclesis.

      Da Vinci’s Last Supper of 1498 tends to be the symbol which most Christians think of when visualizing that fateful Passover Supper. But I appreciate Dali’s The Sacrament of the Last Supper (1955) which is (poorly) displayed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC because of the embrace of God the Father and its timeless reverence. http://images.worldgallery.co.uk/i/prints/rw/lg/1/6/Salvador-Dali-The-last-supper-161419.jpg

      While von Glerken’s work is provocative, and he has the right as an artist to do that, I am less sanguine about having the triptych displayed at the Würburg Diocese Museum of Art, as that gives an aura of ecclesial approval which I am not sure is merited.

    • Thank you Bill for the first intelligent response I have seen so far. God bless you 🙂

  2. I have viewed several blogs and responses to this artwork, most of them sadly vilifying the Catholic Church.
    I lived in Germany for almost 4 years, they have a different culture and view of the human body. While I’m not saying I approve of this, I don’t think the painting is meant to be a parody. The viewer, when seated in the right spot, will see himself in the place where Jesus sits. I believe the artist meant that we are to be Jesus to a hurting world. I hope this helps. While our culture shuns all nudity to be porn, so the culture in Jesus’ time did shun a lot of what He permitted, He was a scandal Himself 😉 I would like to be able to view the painting in more detail, then I may be able have a better informed opinion.
    I guess this story does sensationalize the whole thing, they are doing what media loves to do, shock and surprise us. I doubt German Christians will have much negative to say about this as they do not have the same notion that nudity is always about lust and sensuality. The article is poorly written, they have the name of the artist misspelled and the title of the art is nowhere to be seen. The title is important when interpreting art. I don’t really see anything sexual about the portrait, and it’s not meant to be taken literally. My interpretation of the nude woman, based on her expression and my experience with German culture is that she is prideful, not understanding that she is nude, like King Midas.
    Jesus said that the only unforgivable sin is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit, ie -call something that is Godly to be ungodly. I have known some wonderful spirit filled Catholic people in my time, so I would be very reluctant to call them by that name. Of course my beliefs more closely follow an Amillennial view of Revelation so I do not believe the “whore of Babylon” refers to a certain group of people literally, but more figuratively a condition of the soul that will effect different groups of people. I also believe I could be wrong though, so Praise the Lord He is to be the judge of all of this and not me lol. All I have to know is that I am growing in holiness, walk in love and bring as many to know the love if Jesus that I can. That frees me up from getting upset and offended by the world, because it’s not my job to judge them. Just something to think about before you “get a rope” John 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

    • Bill:

      Thanks for your kudos and your thoughtful views.

      I really was not impressed by von Glerken’s work. I recall a mural behind an altar at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Haines City that shows a mixture of men, women and children from various walks of life (including migrant workers) partaking in the Last Supper with Christ. Apologies for the poor quality photo http://www.stannhc.org/content/assets/bottom_image.jpg

      But I’m not sure what von Glerken was doing other than to titillate and épater le bourgeois. So my objection to the nudity was not pornography per se but on its meaninglessness. It is laughable to interpret the nudity as curator Lenssen said that it shows “wounds of the people” as we were created without clothes in the Garden of Eden.

      I am more troubled by transforming Jesus’s role into a projection of our faces. The point of the Paschal Meal was a divine sacrifice of a sinless Lamb of God to atone for the sins of humanity to right mankinds’ relationship with the divine. This was a turning point in salvation history by Jesus (which means Yahweh Saves). Even though it can be asserted that all of the baptized have a little Jesus in us (so to speak), it is vulgar to conjure ourselves in the Epiclesis.

      Da Vinci’s Last Supper of 1498 tends to be the symbol which most Christians think of when visualizing that fateful Passover Supper. But I appreciate Dali’s The Sacrament of the Last Supper (1955) which is (poorly) displayed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC because of the embrace of God the Father and its timeless reverence. http://images.worldgallery.co.uk/i/prints/rw/lg/1/6/Salvador-Dali-The-last-supper-161419.jpg

      While von Glerken’s work is provocative, and he has the right as an artist to do that, I am less sanguine about having the triptych displayed at the Wurtburg Diocese Museum of Art, as that gives an aura of ecclesial approval which I am not sure is merited.

    • Kara:

      Thank you for your spirited and heart felt comments.

      Apologies that in the rush to put my response to bed that I did not carefully proofread and I thereby misspelt (sic) von Glerken’s name. I have endeavored to correct that oversight. However, the name of von Glerken’s work was mentioned in the first line of the article and my response dealt with depictions of the Last Supper. Sorry that was not sufficiently clear for you.

      I will accept pro arguendo that “The Last Supper by Henning von Glerken” was not intended as a parody, but there is little doubt that it was a homage to a cultural archetype that calls to mind da Vinci’s Last Supper based on the placement of the figures and the subject matter itself. Since the Last Supper was depicting a specific moment in salvation history, it is spurious to insert oneself into the place of our Savior, even if it is meant to call us all to be Jesus to a hurting world.

      You are quick to label any criticism to “The Last Supper by Henning von Glerken” as prudery or as being mistaken about considering it pornography. The article simply notes the wardrobe, or lack thereof, of the figures in the piece. You offer an interesting interpretation that the nudity might refer to the pride of King Midas. Again, since this was the Last Supper, the other eleven figures were representing the Apostles (and arguably the eleven tribes of ancient Israel). From Scriptural accounts of the Passover in Jerusalem, was pride really the issue during the Passion of the Christ? The one actor in the Passion Play who that might apply was Peter who was seated next to the Savior. Sorry that does not correspond. While it is interesting, this interpretation does not correspond with hermeneutics and seems counter to the general theme of the Last Supper as traditionally understood.

      Since you have a self proclaimed “Amillennial Revelation” informed spirituality, you may not be aware of the Catholic understanding of the Last Supper. It was more than a mere meal. It was the commencement of the New Covenant where God’s only begotten Son willingly sacrificed himself to be a slain Lamb of God. The Last Supper was the first Eucharist, in which Catholics believe that the bread and wine of the Passover Meal were transsubstantiated into His Body and Blood, to atone God’s people and pay for the slavery of the wages of sin (namely death). “The Last Supper by Henning von Glerken” invites viewers to put themselves in the place of Christ, which they are wholly incapable of doing for the atonement of sin and they are unable to perform the sacrament of the Eucharist.

      Perhaps Continental Europeans generally may not ascribe themselves to Catholic precepts, but a museum run by the Catholic diocese of Würburg ought not be above those teachings. Curator Fr. Jürgen Lenssen had some unfortunate pull quotes when justifying “The Last Supper by Henning von Glerken”.

      Peace be with you-and with your spirit.

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