The First Supper
© Susan Dorothea WhiteThe First Supper, 1988
acrylic on panel 120 x 240 cm
The First Supper is after Leonardo da Vinci's dramatic painting The Last Supper. Although The Last Supper is a magnificent composition, I wanted to challenge the acceptance of the image of thirteen men on one side of a table as a celebrated symbol of a patriarchal religion. In place of the men, all with similar features, I painted thirteen women from different parts of the world. I used a calculator to construct my composition in proportion to Leonardo's.
The Australian Bicentennial of 1988 influenced my painting. There were conflicting attitudes towards this 200th anniversary of the arrival of the first English settlers in Australia. Although many celebrated the Bicentennial, Aboriginal people and their supporters saw it as a commemoration of a white invasion, and protested. In the position of Leonardo's Christ figure is an Aboriginal woman wearing a T-shirt bearing the Aboriginal Land Rights flag. The other figures represent women from different regions of the world, who are part of Australian society today. The figure in the position of Leonardo's Judas, is a blond in check shirt and overalls; she holds an Aboriginal dilly-bag in place of the money-purse.
I researched the origins of fruits and vegetables, positioning them on the table to correspond to the women. From left to right, they are: a tamarillo, avocados, bananas, a coconut, a sliced yam, grapes, a lemon (for Judas!) and a peach. In the centre of the table, there are Australian foods: witchetty grubs, a blue-green emu egg, and nuts in the bowl, and quandongs (a desert fruit) behind the bowl. In the foreground are cherries, then a water-melon, sweet corn, a pear, a plate of dolmades, a mango, a fish, a spanner crab, a plate of tabouli, an orange and an apple. The figure in the place of Judas has a can of Coca Cola and a hamburger, while the rest each have a glass of water and a bread roll.
The feet had to be recreated because the deterioration of the lower section of The Last Supper has made them indecipherable. I used the series of the mathematician Fibonacci (Leonardo of Pisa) to solve the problem of how many feet to depict, since it appears that Leonardo da Vinci has based his composition on the Fibonacci series (... 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 ...) in the following way: 1 table, 1 central figure, 2 side walls, 3 windows and figures grouped in threes, 5 groups of figures (including central figure), 8 panels on the walls and 8 table legs, 13 individual figures. Therefore 21 was the logical choice for the number of feet.
The large rock seen through the left window is an important sacred site for Aboriginal people. Called Uluru, it was returned to them recently as freehold land by the Australian Government.
Susan Dorothea White (1999)
Provenance: Exhibited in The Blake Prize Touring Exhibition, Australia (1988–89); Galerie Art & Architecture (Director: Ernst van der Vossen), Amsterdam (1990); Galerie am Buttermarkt, Cologne (1991). Purchased in Germany in 1991 for public exhibition at Volkshochschule, Munich (1992–2003); exhibited at Augustana Hochschule, Neuendettelsau (2003–8). Vandalized in 2008 and returned to the artist for restoration.