Head of Judas | Art for Lent 5C

John 12:4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii[b] and the money given to the poor?” 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)

Head of Judas
Head of Judas
Pencil, black chalk, paste, and watercolour, 562 x 435 mm
Musées de Strasbourg, Strasbourg
Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Münster
(b. 1452, Vinci, d. 1519, Cloux, near Amboise)Click image for more information.

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Head of Judas, c.1495, Mixed Media, Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519

“The Last Supper” – a large mural in the refectory (dining hall) of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan – took Leonardo three years to complete. Leonardo had in mind a physical likeness of each disciple and was known to leave his work to seek the image he wanted. Upon finding a face with the right characteristics, he would follow them unnoticed, observe them closely, and later make multiple sketches. The prior of the convent complained at length about these delays. On many days Leonardo would come to the refectory just to sit, observe, and think without picking up a brush; yet other days he would paint all day without a break.

Some of the sketches Leonardo made for the face of Judas have been lost and the one presented here (from the Strasbourg Museum, Germany) and others like it, is very likely to be a tracing made by one of Leonardo’s pupils. The “Judas” portion of a sketch of “Judas and Peter,” at the Ackland Museum at Chapel Hill, North Carolina is virtually identical to the Judas at the Strasbourg Museum. It is likely it also is a tracing made directly from Leonardo’s cartoon for “The Last Supper.”

When it is not known if a work is from the direct hand of a particular artist, historians and authenticators seek clues from sources such as notebooks, correspondence, sales records, materials (pigments, paper, etc), as well as an analysis of stylistic similarities to known works. Museums enjoy the prestige associated with possessing the work of a renowned artist and when authenticity has not been established fully, museums may connect a work to an artist by using terms such as, “Attributed to…” or, “Pupil of…”

In the facial expression and body language of each disciple, Leonardo sought to convey the very moment Jesus announced that one among them would betray him. In “The Last Supper,” Judas, in profile, is the fourth figure from the left. He is looking toward Jesus and was taken aback when he heard Jesus’ words. He is seated in shadow, his elbow is on the table, and he is clutching a money purse. Salt has spilled from a tipped shaker that is near Judas’ hand. The salt makes a symbolic connection to the Near-Eastern saying, “betray the salt,” meaning to betray one’s master.


No…the man selected by Leonardo to be the face of Judas in “The Last Supper” was not the same person whose face was used to portray Jesus. This contrived story tells of an innocent young man who was selected to represent Jesus but later became a degenerate criminal with a face that personified evil. According to the legend, Leonardo did not recognize the man and used his face again; this time to portray the face of Judas. Like e-mail misinformation that is forwarded repeatedly as “fact,” this fabricated story continues to be told.

Because of the prior’s incessant complaints, Leonardo joked with the Duke of Milan, that if he couldn’t find a face for Judas, he might use the prior’s face. The duke mentioned this to the prior who did no more complaining.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

Was Jesus’ Last Supper a Seder?

Here is an accessible look at the events of Holy Week. When was the “Last Supper” and was it a Seder? When was Jesus tried, condemned, and crucified? Let Jonathan Klawans guide your exploration:

Many people assume that Jesus’ Last Supper was a Seder, a ritual meal held in celebration of the Jewish holiday of Passover. And indeed, according to the Gospel of Mark 14:12, Jesus prepared for the Last Supper on the “first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb.” If Jesus and his disciples gathered together to eat soon after the Passover lamb was sacrificed, what else could they possibly have eaten if not the Passover meal? And if they ate the Passover sacrifice, they must have held a Seder. […]

… I believe we must be careful not to let our emotions get the better of us when we are searching for history. Indeed, even though the association of the Last Supper with a Passover Seder remains entrenched in the popular mind, a growing number of scholars are beginning to express serious doubts about this claim.

Read the entire post on the pages of the Biblical Archeology Society:
Was Jesus’ Last Supper a Seder? – Biblical Archaeology Society.

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