Well this is interesting.All this time I thot the following was just a hilarious Monty Python sketch:
Servant: A Michelangelo to see you, your Holiness.
Servant: Michelangelo, the famous renaissance artist whose best known works include the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and the celebrated statue of David.
Pope: Ah. Very well...
Servant: In 1514 he returned to Florence and de...
Pope: All right, that's enough, that's enough, they've got it now!
Michelangelo: Good evening, your Holiness.
Pope: Evening, Michelangelo. I want to have a word with you about this painting of yours, "The Last Supper."
Michelangelo: Oh, yeah?
Pope: I'm not happy about it.
Michelangelo: Oh, dear. It took me hours.
Pope: Not happy at all.
Michelangelo: Is it the jello you don't like?
Michelangelo: Ah, no, I know, they do have a bit of colour, don't they? Oh, I know, you don't like the kangaroo?
Pope: What kangaroo?
Michelangelo: No problem, I'll paint him out.
Pope: I never saw a kangaroo!
Michelangelo: Uuh...he's right in the back. I'll paint him out! No sweat, I'll make him into a disciple.
Michelangelo: All right?
Pope: That's the problem.
Michelangelo: What is?
Pope: The disciples.
Michelangelo: Are they too Jewish? I made Judas the most Jewish.
Pope: No, it's just that there are twenty-eight of them.
Michelangelo: Oh, well, another one will never matter, I'll make the kangaroo into another one.
Pope: No, that's not the point.
Michelangelo: All right. Well, I'll lose the kangaroo. Be honest, I wasn't perfectly happy with it.
Pope: That's not the point. There are twenty-eight disciples!
Michelangelo: Too many?
Pope: Well, of course it's too many!
Michelangelo: Yeah, I know that, but I wanted to give the impression of a real last supper. You know, not just any old last supper. Not like a last meal or a final snack. But you know, I wanted to give the impression of a real mother of a blow-out, you know?
Pope: There were only twelve disciples at the last supper.
Michelangelo: Well, maybe some of the others came along afterw...
Pope: There were only twelve altogether.
Michelangelo: Well, maybe some of their friends came by, you know?
Pope: Look! There were just twelve disciples and our Lord at the last supper. The Bible clearly says so.
Michelangelo: No friends?
Pope: No friends.
Michelangelo: You see, I like them, they help to flesh out the scene, I could lose a few, you know I could...
Pope: Look! There were only twelve disciples at...
Michelangelo: I've got it! I've got it! We'll call it "The Last But One Supper"!
Michelangelo: Well there must have been one, if there was a last supper there must have been a one before that, so this, is the "Penultimate Supper"! The Bible doesn't say how many people were there, does it?
Pope: No, but...
Michelangelo: Well there you are, then!
Pope: Look! The last supper is a significant event in the life of our Lord, the penultimate supper was not! Even if they had a conjurer and a mariachi band. Now, a last supper I commissioned from you, and a last supper I want! With twelve disciples and one Christ!
Pope: Yes one! Now will you please tell me what in God's name possessed you to paint this with three Christs in it?
Michelangelo: It works, mate!
Michelangelo: Yeah! It looks great! The fat one balances the two skinny ones.
Pope: There was only one Redeemer!
Michelangelo: Ah, I know that, we all know that, what about a bit of artistic license?
Pope: A one Messiah is what I want!
Michelangelo: I'll tell you what you want, mate! You want a bloody photographer! That's you want. Not a bloody creative artist to crease you up...
Pope: I'll tell you what I want! I want a last supper with one Christ, twelve disciples, no kangaroos, no trampoline acts, by Thursday lunch, or you don't get paid!
Michelangelo: Bloody fascist!
Pope: Look! I'm the bloody pope, I am! May not know much about art, but I know what I like!
It turns out it was based on this:
More details here. Money quote:
“What signifies the figure of him whose nose is bleeding?” “What signify those armed men dressed in the fashion of Germany, with halberds in their hands?” “And the one who is dressed as a jester with a parrot on his wrist, why did you put him into the picture?” Veronese did his best to satisfy the inquisitors. The figure with the bleeding nose, he explained, “is a servant who has a nose-bleed from some accident.” The jester with the parrot “is there as an ornament, as it is usual to insert such figures.” As to the halberdiers, he offered a more theoretical explanation:
It is necessary here that I should say a score of words. ... We painters use the same license as poets and madmen, and I represented those halberdiers, the one drinking, the other eating at the foot of the stairs, but both ready to do their duty, because it seemed to me suitable and possible that the master of the house, who as I have been told was rich and magnificent, would have such servants.
This appeal to artistic license did not satisfy the Inquisitors: “Does it seem suitable to you, in the Last Supper of our Lord, to represent buffoons, drunken Germans, dwarfs, and other such absurdities?”