“Is that hand wielding a dagger?”

The dagger held by the disciple Peter in The Last Supper mural painted by Leonardo da Vinci begs the question: Why is it pointing in the direction of Andrew who seems to be pleading “not guilty” and showing a clean pair of hands in response to the charge made by Jesus that someone at the table would betray him?

image source: Haltadefinizione

Is there some kind of mystery attached to this particular feature, or was Leonardo simply layering the dagger with another narrative.

What may not be so obvious, particularly because of the mural’s deterioration over the centuries, is the location of a second dagger, tucked behind a piece of bread at the right hand corner of the table next to Simon the Zealot. No other knives are on the table.

image source: Haltadefinizione

Leonardo has identified Simon as belonging to a splinter group of Jewish Zealots known as the Sicari who concealed knives in their cloaks, and at public meetings used them to attack anyone sympathetic to the Roman occupation of Judea. Hence SImon’s wide sleeves.

It’s no coincidence that Leonardo emphasised the dagger and Peter’s sleight of hand. Peter’s original name was Simon Peter. Jesus changed the name to Cephas, meaning rock. So we have a Simon on the left, and another on the right.

This is an indication that Leonardo mirrored or balanced elements on each side of Jesus the central figure. He adopted a similar approach for one of his first ever paintings, The Annunciation. 

Leonardo was also likely referring to an association with a Franciscan friar and mathematician he lodged with in Milan for a few years, Lucca Pacioli (pictured right). The friar is said to have published the first work in Europe on the double-entry system of book-keeping where every entry to an account requires a corresponding and opposite entry to a different account. On one side, Simon Peter’s knife; on the other, Simon the Zealot’s.

Simon died a martyr. His body was sawn in half, which explains the sliced piece of bread next to the knife.

I shall present more on other narratives Leonardo embedded at this end of the table, and what else Peter’s dagger is pointing to, in a future post.