The Last Supper by Sister Plautilla Nelli (1524–1588)
Date: 16th century
Collection: Basilica of Santa Maria Novella
What I love about this painting:
The Last Supper, a 7×2-meter oil-on-canvas, preserved in the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, is the only signed work by Plautilla Nelli known to survive. Her signature, in the upper left corner, reads S. Plavtil – La Ora Te Pro Pictora (Sister Plavtil, Pray for the Paintress).
I love the intimacy of this composition. Jesus hold bread in his left hand as he comforts Saint John.
According to Karen Chernick for her article of October 17, 2019 in Atlas Obscura:
Nelli didn’t paint her “Last Supper” background to look like the dining hall it was designed for, a trick other artists used to make the scene relatable. Instead, she showed Jesus and his apostles dining on the same food that Santa Caterina’s Domincan nuns ate: a whole roasted lamb, bread, wine, heads of lettuce, and fresh fava beans—the last two dishes unprecedented in any depiction of Christ’s last meal. The fava beans were a wink to local cuisine, a Florentine specialty normally eaten by peasants (and nuns).
“Pray for the Paintress,” is a thought I will keep in my heart.
About this painting, via Wikipedia:
Plautilla Nelli’s Last Supper is a first in the history of art rendered by a woman. Painted in the 1560’s, Last Supper was under restoration for four years. The work went on exhibit in October 2019. No female artist had ever painted this subject before Nelli. Florence has the richest tradition of paintings with the theme of last supper in the world. Nelli’s Last Supper, her most significant work because of its size and subject, is a seven-meter long, oil on canvas. After restoration her Last Supper will be exhibited at the Santa Maria Novella Museum in Florence across from Alessandro Allori’s painting with the same theme, also painted in the sixteenth century.
About the Artist (via Wikipedia)
Sister Plautilla Nelli (1524–1588) was a self-taught nun-artist and the first-known female Renaissance painter of Florence. She was a nun of the Dominican convent of St. Catherine of Siena located in Piazza San Marco, Florence, and was heavily influenced by the teachings of Savonarola and by the artwork of Fra Bartolomeo.
Pulisena Margherita Nelli was born into a wealthy family in the San Felice area of Florence. Her father, Piero di Luca Nelli, was a successful fabric merchant and her ancestors originated from the Tuscan valley area of Mugello, as did the Medici dynasty. There is a modern-day street in Florence, Via del Canto de’ Nelli, in the San Lorenzo district, named for her family, and the New Sacristy of the Church of San Lorenzo is the original site of her family homes.
She became a nun at the age of fourteen, taking on the name Suor Plautilla, at the convent of Santa Caterina di Cafaggio; she would later be prioress on three occasions. The facility was managed by the Dominican friars of San Marco, led by Savonarola. About half of all educated girls in that era were placed into convents to avoid the cost of raising a dowry. Savonarola’s preachings promoted devotional painting and drawing by religious women to avoid sloth, thus the convent became a center for nun-artists. Her sister, also a nun, Costanza, (Suor Petronilla) wrote a life of Savonarola.
Credits and Attributions:
Quote from “A Nun’s 450-Year-Old ‘Last Supper’ Makes Its Museum Debut in Florence” by Karen Chernick © 2019 Atlas Obscura. All rights reserved. https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/first-last-supper-woman-painter-florence
Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Plautilla Nelli – The Last Supper.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Plautilla_Nelli_-_The_Last_Supper.jpg&oldid=371023591 (accessed October 24, 2019).
Wikipedia contributors, “Plautilla Nelli,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Plautilla_Nelli&oldid=922398829 (accessed October 24, 2019).