With a finite space, the supper room, Leonardo is able to precisely place objects in space using diminishing size and narrowing angle to draw the eye to the distance, although that distance is very close indeed, the rear wall. The three windows are no more than frames for what might well be pictures of the outside world, for all the detail of the exterior landscape they fail to show.
Leonardo's use of color in the Last Supper is in contrast to the solemnity of the event. Everyone knew that Jesus of Nazareth was a wanted man; he had already warned his followers that he would be arrested and might well leave them forever.
Yet, in Leonardo's painting, the group is attired in bright colors, and is engaged in animated conversation, not all of it solemn from the expressions on the faces. In setting the scene this way, Leonardo makes the point that these are very human men doing very human things, and there is very little hidden about their feelings or motives, the opposite of the case in the Mona Lisa, whose expression is inscrutable.
Despite the simple linear plane in which the action takes place, it is intricate, with the gestures of the figures creating a sort of rope, a rope one feels will change form at any moment. The undulations of the figure placement are subtle, and intriguing. They movement along the line of whispering men seems an invitation to eavesdrop.
The contrast between these two masterpieces could hardly be clearer. The Last Supper, for all its underlying emotional content, is much more rational in effect than the Mona Lisa. Leonardo's use of shades of primary colors in the Last Supper contrasts with his use of neutrals in the Mona Lisa. It is as if he wants to be clear, precise, convincing in the Last Supper, but secretive, amorphous and open to suggestion in the Mona Lisa. In fact, Leonardo has, in each case, used the proper techniques and devices to do that. His canvas is shallow in the foreground and muddy in the Mona Lisa; in the Last Supper, the foreground is deep, extending right up under the table that delineates the action, and is clear even there. The background in the Mona Lisa seems to offer if not answers to her expression, at least suggestions as to the dreamlike and convoluted quality that may lay hidden underneath her dark heavy garments, her dark heavy hair, and her dusky countenance. Where the countenances of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth are open and revealed to the observer, the Mona Lisa's is contained in her unadorned flesh, here virtually absent brow line, her heavily shadowed eyes.
It is undeniable that each painting could be considered the seminal work of its type. What is less clear, or would be had we not the abundant documentation to prove it, is that each was by the same hand. Knowing as much as we do of Leonardo's full and varied life and extraordinary talents in both arts and sciences, it is somewhat easier to credit the same man with both works. Indeed, the fact that it is easy to see that Leonardo painted both, despite the disparate technique and subject matter, leaves no doubt of the genius of Leonardo, even if we are still in complete doubt concerning what the Mona Lisa is thinking.
Da Vinci, Leonardo. La Gioconda. Ibiblio Web site. 8 June 2005. http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/vinci/joconde/joconde.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/vinci/joconde/&h=1155&w=743&sz=156&tbnid=8WKJgRtlyhQJ:&tbnh=150&tbnw=96&hl=en&start=1&prev=/images%3Fq%3DMona%2BLisa%26hl%3Den%26lr%3D%26sa%3DG
Da Vinci, Leonard. The Last Supper. Global Gallery Web site. 8 June 2005. http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.globalgallery.com/images/ny-9737.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.globalgallery.com/enlarge/025-33463/&h=430&w=819&sz=52&tbnid=VJmEtn2ioFUJ:&tbnh=75&tbnw=143&hl=en&start=1&prev=/images%3Fq%3DDa%2BVinci%2BThe%2BLast%2BSupper%26hl%3Den%26lr%3D%26sa%3DG
Schultz, Juergen. "Leonardo Da Vinci." Atlantic Brief Lives: A Biographical Companion to the Arts. Ed. Louis Kronenberger. Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1971. 454-457.