Andy Warhol’s Last Supper

A few months after Andy Warhol’s death on February 27, 1987, Vanity Fair published an article by Warhol’s friend, the art historian John Richardson. He stated, “You never understand Andy Warhol unless you know that he came from a very religious, Ukrainian Byzantine background and that he remained a church goer and a religious person through his whole life.”

Andy Warhol: The Last Decade a collection of Warhol’s last works on display at the Brooklyn Museum until September 12, 2010 (before moving to the Baltimore Museum of Art), includes four of Andy’s “Last Supper” paintings. This series of over a hundred depictions of the Last Supper was commissioned to inaugurate a new gallery in Milan located across the street from the site of Leonardo da Vinci’s own “The Last Supper.” Less than a month after these paintings were exhibited in Milan, Warhol underwent emergency gallbladder surgery and died several days later.

In the March/April 1999 issue of The Door, I interviewed Jane Daggett Dillenberger, professor of visual arts and theology at the Graduate Theological Union and author of The Religious Art of Andy Warhol. She offered an informed analysis about the religious symbolism found in Warhol’s art. Here are some choice passages:

On Warhol’s use of the Wise potato chip, Dove, and GE logos in  The Last Supper, The Big “C”:

If I were to say to you it means thoughts and soul, I would confine it and I don’t think that would be correct. But I suggest several possible meanings. The GE is a symbol for God and the Dove. And both of these of course have other meanings but the Dove is the dove of the Holy Spirit and then we have Christ himself there and that gives us the Holy Trinity. That is an imagery that Warhol was terribly familiar with especially being a Byzantine Christian. And so, he has playfully put that into the painting and if we want to decode it that way we can. If we just want to see those as pop signs that are just decoratively sprinkled around to make a lively and interesting painting, we can do that too. And that’s all right with Warhol.

Andy’s placement of  place three motorcycles in this work:

That’s very fascinating. Andy himself wore black leather. He went through a phase of doing that. And of course, he was associated with people at The Factory who were black leather people too. The black leather that was worn by Hell’s Angels and by motorcycle enthusiasts of that period came to bear a symbolic meaning of freedom from restraints. Many of them were gay and the power of the motorcycle is that you can out zip in and out of cars and so forth and they did. All of that was bound up together in a subculture that Warhol himself knew.

The significance of the 6.99 price tag:

First of all, we see them all the time and a lot of things in his art, he’s emphasizing that which we see all the time. But most of those price tags are, even for the time that they were painted, are in the rather cheaper range. So that if you want to say that the 6.99 is an undervaluing of religion, that these are cheaper bargain rates, that may be one reason. But people have thought of more obscure things; if you reverse the nines, you get three sixes. 666 is an apocalyptic number that occurs in the book of Revelations and is associated with doom and occult things.

What big “C” represents:

Well, first of all it means Christ. But at the Warhol Museum they have an ad for a cancer cure that has this big “C” and talks about the fear of cancer and that you can do something about it if you buy such and such. The form of it comes from an ad and there was a period, when cancer was so feared nobody wanted to say the word. People often just referred to it as the big “C.”

Becky Garrison is a satirist/storyteller whose most recent book is Roger Williams’s Little Book of Virtues (Wipf & Stock, March 2020). Also, she edited Love, Always: Partners of Trans People on Intimacy, Challenge and Resilience (Transgress Press, 2015). Her six books include 2006’s Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church (PW, starred review).