Life-Size Wooden Sculpture of the Last Supper – Is It Just Another Religious Statue?

Exactly what and where is it?

The Zappia sculpture is a 17-foot long wooden life-size recreation of the last supper, based on the Leonardo da Vinci’s fresco in Milan, Italy. Its 13 figures (Christ and his 12 disciples) were each carved from a 500-lb block of laminated basswood. Finished, each figure weighs at least 200-pounds. The supper’s table, its cloth covering and settings are also made from basswood.

This sculpture is located in a special viewing room in the Country Club Christian Church, 6101 Ward Parkway, Kansas City, MO, where it can be viewed by visitors during weekday business hours and on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Its viewing room has glass-enclosed humidity, temperature, and lighting controls together with bench seating and a recorded message. A tour guide is available for groups near 12 or more.

Who sculpted it?

According to the churches’ published literature, Domenic Zappia came to the United States from Italy in the early 1900’s when he was four-years-old. At 17, his stepfather enrolled him at the Cleveland School of Art. He graduated from there with honors.

After much success in other parts of the U.S., he came to Kansas City in 1926 to do ornamental artwork in a large theater and other places there. In 1958, he was commissioned to do this large Last Supper sculpture for a proposed cemetery chapel in Charleston, WV. He completed it in 1962. However, the cemetery chapel was never finished. The sculpture then went on loan for several years.

History (it traveled a lot).

After being viewed by 70,000 people locally in 1962, the sculpture was stored for shipment to the World’s Fair in New York City in 1964 where it remained for one year. After that, it went to the Kennedy International Airport until 1972. During that interim, two Kansas City civic leaders funded their above church to purchase the sculpture from its WV owner in 1971. At that time, however, they had no suitable place to keep it. So, it went on display at select fund-rasing events, and in museums, chapels, a big church, and a college before coming to its current home in 2000.

Artistic significance.

Zappia studied the Christian Bible regularly. He felt he knew the disciples well. Thus, he had his own ideas on how to make their features. His work is not a mere copy of the da Vinci fresco. However, its figure’s are placed at the table the same way. Viewed from the left, they are Bartholomew, James the Lesser, Andrew, Judas, Peter, John, Jesus, Thomas, James the Greater, Philip, Thaddaeus, Matthew, and Simon.

Zappia was happy the whole time while doing this work. He felt inspired many times during the four years he worked on it. Also, his long-time ulcer ailment did not bother him during this period. Additionally, he finished the sculpture without chipping errors or self-injury, and without having to redo any of the figures with a fresh block of basswood.

Furthermore, the basswood itself gives visual impact to its viewers. Basswood is a fine-grained, fibrous, golden hardwood from linden trees. It does not splinter easily. Thus, its bright appearance viewed under the soft lighting combined with the artist’s detailed, smooth, and ingenious sculpting of the figure’s hands, clothing, facial and human features leave the viewers in a state of awe.

Conclusion. To answer the initial question, hardly. Because only a few life-size sculptures of the last supper exist, this one stands out through its lifelike imagery. Also, like other artists having divine intuition, Zappia was truly inspired for this work. For more information on wood sculpting, see these websites.

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