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What secret does Kolkata’s St John’s Church harbour?

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With the arrival of East India Company officials and their families, Kolkata needed churches, where they could worship. The British built churches, wherever they acquired land. Most of them had unique architecture with conical spires. One such iconic church is the St John's Church of Kolkata. It is famous because it houses Johann Zoffany’s famous painting 'Last Supper.' This painting is no less important than Leonardo Da Vinci's painting by the same name.

 The beautiful architecture of the interiors

In 1782, Maharaja Nabakrishna Dev donated land to Warren Hastings to build St John's Church. Money required for the building, came from a lottery held in 1783. The then British residents of Kolkata wanted the church to look better than any other church of England. St John's Church opened its gates to public on 24th June, 1787 with famous artist Johann Zoffany's painting 'Last Supper', specially made for this church. Later, he drew another Last Supper for Brentford Church in London. 

The painting is an example of Baroque style and includes bright 'Italiante Light' on tables. Such lights were first used by Dutch artists, who had been influenced by the lights of Italian seashores. Since Netherlands was a country that got little sunshine, Dutch artists were used to drawing landscapes in dark shades with sparse interspersed light shades. As a result, the painting suddenly looked bright at places. 

When Zofanny’s painting was first put up at St John's Church, many found resemblance of Jesus and Judas with some known characters. Some even felt St John looked like someone of their own. For others, things surrounding Baby Jesus were like household articles. Mildred Archer in his book India and British Portraiture (1770-1820) says, Zoffany had chosen Father Parthenio, a Kolkata based Greek priest as model for Baby Jesus. Auctioneer William Tulle modelled as Judas and St John was modelled on British magistrate Lord Blackyear. Famous renaissance artist, Raphael, had also used well known artists and sculptors of that era, Leonardo Da Vinci and Michaelangelo, as models.

The Last Supper painting inside the church

The background of Last Supper carries articles like a water pot, a postman's sword, a blurred city life, all that reflect a Kolkata landscape.