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July 14, 2023

Acquisition: Raphael Morghen

Raphael Morghen, after Leonardo da Vinci,  "The Last Supper"

Raphael Morghen, after Leonardo da Vinci
The Last Supper, 1800
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of David Alan Brown


Raphael Morghen (1758–1833) was the preeminent reproductive engraver working in Europe at the turn of the 19th century. He produced more than 250 prints after the designs of other artists. The National Gallery of Art has acquired Morghen’s 1800 engraving of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. One of his most famous and widely circulated prints, it was given to the museum by David Alan Brown, the National Gallery’s former curator of Italian and Spanish paintings.

Morghen made the engraving of The Last Supper while he was living in Florence, having moved there in 1793 at the request of Ferdinand III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, to preside over the newly formed school of engraving. With its rich cultural history, Florence was an ideal place to teach reproductive printmaking. Morghen himself studied under and then worked for Giovanni Volpato in Rome from 1778 to 1790. The Last Supper provided an excellent model of engraving for Morghen’s students.

It took Morghen two years to replicate Leonardo’s painting—one of the best-known images in the history of art. He worked from a detailed, reduced-scale intermediary drawing made by Teodoro Matteini, with whom he collaborated on several prints and projects. It is possible that Morghen had seen Leonardo’s Last Supper in the refectory of the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent in Milan, or he might have seen other prints and drawings after it. He may have admired the single-point perspective aligned on the central figure of Christ and the individualized gestures and facial expressions of the twelve apostles.

Upon completion, Morghen’s engraving was published by Niccolò de Antoni and distributed internationally. It remains the most famous engraving of The Last Supper, and it is certainly the most important reproduction of this composition made before the invention of photography.

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