Leonardo da Vinci, Drawing for Christ in "The Last Supper"
Léon Gérard (French, active 1857–61)
Albumen silver print from paper negative
Image: 36.3 x 26.6 cm (14 5/16 x 10 1/2 in.)
Mount: 59.2 x 42.6 cm (23 5/16 x 16 3/4 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Denise and Andrew Saul Gift, 2005
Not on view
We know almost nothing of Léon Gérard. Probably an amateur and a man of means, he photographed in Nuremberg and Bamberg in l857, and in the Rhine Valley, Switzerland, northern Italy, and the department of Loire-et-Cher in France prior to l861, when he exhibited his work at the Société Française de Photographie. The drawing in this photograph is related to the famous figure of Christ seated at the center of the table in the fresco Leonardo painted of the Last Supper in the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan in 1495-98. Although the way the image loses itself in the roughly textured surface suggests that it is the sinopia, or sketch, that underlies the fresco, it is in fact a preliminary drawing on paper, now in the Brera Gallery in Milan. The drawing was originally a delicate image in red and black chalk, but Leonardo's touch was all but lost when the contours were reinforced by other hands; the paper, badly abraded, was more than once restored and laid down on canvas. As Leonardo's masterly fresco began to deteriorate shortly after its completion, this drawing of its centerpiece assumed supreme importance. As a double relic, of Leonardo's inspiration and of the face that is the incarnation of Christian spirituality, the drawing was accordingly "saved" at all cost. The face is so well known that Gérard's photograph of this distant version of it works like a memory; insubstantial as smoke, yet distinct, the portrait hovers like that on Veronica's veil.
Inscription: Inscribed in negative, BL: "L. Gérard"; BR: "120"; inscribed in ink on mount, recto BC: "Leonardo de Vinci. // Carton pour le Christ de la Cène, Photographié sur le Tableau original existant au Musée Brera. // Milan."
[Harry Lunn Gallery]; Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York, June 11, 1982