Photo by Erich Lessing

“Take, eat; this is my body” (Luke 22:19), Jesus commands his disciples as he offers them bread at the Last Supper, depicted by the Flemish artist Dieric Bouts (1415–1475). A more accurate translation of the Aramaic Jesus would have spoken, however, is: “Take eat; this is my sacrificial flesh” and “This is my sacrificial blood.” Supporting Bruce Chilton’s argument in “The Eucharist—Exploring Its Origins,” author Bernhard Lang argues that when Jesus initiated the Eucharist as a substitute for the Temple sacrifice, he adopted the ritual language used by priests making offerings at the Jerusalem Temple.

The Brotherhood of the Holy Sacrament of Saint Peter’s Church in Louvain contracted Bouts to make this large altarpiece panel, measuring 6 feet by 5 feet, and hired two consultants to advise him on appropriate iconography for the Last Supper, an unusual theme in Northern Renaissance painting. The artist included portraits of four brotherhood members in his Flemish interior: Two observe the meal through the kitchen window and two stand behind the seated disciples.