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Zoffany’s Last Supper adorns a Kolkata church

16 January, 2023 11:50:24
 Zoffany’s Last Supper adorns a Kolkata church

Imagine a priceless painting of famous German neo-classical painter Johann Zoffany adorning a well-known church of Kolkata! And yes, that exquisite painting still stands tall and if you are in the city you can see it with your own eyes at the St John’s Church. Isn’t that exciting beyond words? With the arrival of the East India Company officials and their families in Kolkata during the British era, the city needed churches, where these families could worship and pray. Hence the British started to build churches, wherever they got hold of land. Most of these churches had unique architecture. One such iconic church is the St John’s Church that still harbours the famous Johann Zoffany painting called ‘Last Supper.’ This painting is no less important than Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting by the same name.

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 this world famous painting specially made for this church. Later, the artist drew another Last Supper for the Brentford Church in London.

The painting itself is unique as it is a rare 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.

 Zoffany’s Last Supper adorns a Kolkata churchMildred Archer in his book India and British Portraiture (1770-1820) mentioned that 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 Michelangelo as models. Many might remember the painting named The School of Athens by Raphael where he had drawn upon the facial features of his contemporaries Da Vinci and Michelangelo to depict Plato, Aristotle and other classical personages. The background of Last Supper carries articles like a water pot, a postman's sword, a blurred city life --- all of which reflect a Kolkata landscape of those times. Hence the city’s influence on Zoffany’s painting is quite evident. So if you haven’t witnessed this grand painting, then be at the St John’s Church to see it next time.

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