Monday, December 4, 2017

The Blind Man's Last Supper

The night of Christ’s last supper has been portrayed innumerable times throughout Western art history. For Picasso, these historical portrayals of the last supper are used as a backdrop and reference in his own painting of a man’s last meal. In Picasso’s Blind Man’s Last Meal, there is a visual language suggestive of a deeper conversation than the mere surface of the paint. The Blind Man is tapping into a tradition of portraying the last supper in the viewer’s context, yet Picasso also takes the tradition one step further by replacing the figure of Christ with the figure of the blind man, who can be read as a self-portrait, a friend of the artist, or as a man who stands in for all blind men or even for all of humanity.
By putting his painting in conversation with previous depictions of the Last Supper, Picasso leaves the viewer to discern what is symbol and what is representational. One interpretation could put a cynical spin on Christ as a delusional blind man reaching for the wine that he claimed could bring atonement. A more generous reading would place the viewer, as a member of the church, in the place of the blind man who, despite the blindness he has in this world is reaching for what he knows is true, and though it is his last meal provides him a certain hope and comfort.

 Pablo Picasso
The Blind Man's Last Meal
Oil on Canvas

Ticiano Vecellio
Supper at Emmaus
c. 1530
Oil on Canvas
Louvre, Paris, France

The title of Picasso’s piece inescapably connects the Blind Man to the last supper in some way, and by extension, the paintings on the supper at Emmaus, as both events are visually and thematically linked. In Vecelio’s Supper at Emmaus, Jesus, the central figure is reaching for and looking at his food not unlike the way Picasso depicts the blind man with his meal. The focus is on Jesus’ hands and face, just as in the Blind Man. 

El Greco
Christ Healing the Blind
c. 1570
Oil on Canvas

The Blind Man cannot be talked about without looking at the history of the portrayal of the blind. In particular, in this case, how blindness relates to Christ and the Last Supper. As El Greco shows in this painting, Christ is connected to the blind, through the promises and miracles of giving sight to the blind, as well as a metaphor for the spiritually blind who he came to give sight to. Picasso could be using the blind man metaphorically, in reference to himself or other people, which would directly connect Christ healing the blind to the blind man – as the blind eat and drink of the eucharist they are healed. One point of connection between Picasso and this particular painting is the depiction of the bodies: Picasso’s figures, especially those from the Blue Period are commonly referred to as having El Greco bodies. 

Hirschvogel Workshop
Roundel with Christ Healing the Blind
Oil on Canvas

Here again the question arises: who is the blind man? Is it mere coincidence that the figure of Jesus in this roundel is in a similar posture and gesture to the blind man, with once again an emphasis on the face and hands? Picasso is not painting in a vacuum, but instead his portrayal of a blind man relates to previous ways of depicting the blind. After looking at other depictions of the last supper and Christ and the blind, there is still not an easy answer to the meaning behind The Blind Man’s Last Meal, but at least now we can enter into conversation with it.

The Christ Child Pressing the Wine of the Eucharist
 c. 1500
Linen warp; wool, silk, and gilt weft yarns

It is unlikely that Picasso directly references this particular painting in his work. Yet The Christ Child provides a kind of background and reference to the Blind Man. Here, like in the Supper at Emmaus, Christ’s hands and face are the emphasis, including the tactile nature that lets the viewer empathize with the feeling of the cup or the grapes. One question that arises after viewing The Christ Child is this: does the blind man serve himself the wine, or has he been served his last meal by another?

The Supper at Emmaus
Oil on Canvas

In light of his Spanish heritage, Picasso was likely affected and influenced by Velázquez’s work. Compositionally, this piece is similar to The Blind Man in its use of a seated figure at a table on one side of the picture, though Velázquez uses two other figures in his painting. If Picasso is referencing The Supper at Emmaus, he makes two important distinguishing differences: the central figure is blind and the palette has moved from bright reds, earthy browns, and cool greens to a melancholy blue. The use of the bowl the blind man has may further link Picasso to Velázquez’s piece, and could be a means of linking the blind man to Christ himself.

No comments:

Post a Comment