Art Resource, New York, NY

“The Last Supper,” by Leonardo da Vinci (1495–98).

Centuries of deterioration of this wall painting in Milan’s Santa Maria delle Grazie monastery cannot obscure its extraordinary power. Da Vinci based his composition on the moment in the four gospel accounts when Jesus says, “One of you shall betray me.… And everyone began to say to him, Lord is it I?” Da Vinci freezes the instant of response to Jesus’ revelation: The apostles separate into four groups of three on either side of the placid focal figure of Jesus, whose head seems wreathed by the halo of the architectural pediment behind him. In his reaction, each apostle reveals his character and relationship to Jesus. John inclines serenely to Jesus’ right; James recoils in shock to his left, and Judas’ defiant profile portends his betrayal of Jesus.