The myth of ‘Pietro Bandinelli’

Copied below is the earliest example I could find of this story, used to illustrate the spoiling effect of sin. My guess is that J. Wilbur Chapman made it up.

A search on the Internet reveals no references anywhere else, other than in derivative sermons.

The story says the painting is on canvas. Actually it is a fresco: oil and tempera on plaster.

The story says the painting took many years to complete – enough for ‘Pietro’ to commit a lifetime of sins. Da Vinci was in fact a great procrastinator – but not on this picture, which was completed over just two years – between 1495 and 1497.

The story says that the same person modeled for both Judas and Jesus – in fact the faces are totally different: the heads of completely different shape.

The story says that in the painting Judas’ face is hardened and distorted… debased … repulsive. Actually he is not.

How was the story created? Who knows, however there was a more or less contemporary ‘Bartolommeo Bandinelli’ who was a sculptor, and Pietro was a common first name of the time.

Why was the story created? Good question – there are enough examples of the damaging effect of sin on the world, it is sadly just not necessary to make up more.

Simon Springett
02 August 2004

See also


There is no incident that more forcefully illustrates this than that connected with the painting of Leonardo Da Vinci's great masterpiece, "The Last Supper." Long, and in vain, had the artist sought for a model for his Christ. "I must find a young man of pure life," he declared, "before I can get that look on the face I want." At length his attention was called to a young man who sang in the choir of one of the old churches of Rome, Pietro Bandinelli by name. He was not only a young man of beautiful countenance, but his life was as beautiful as his face. The moment he looked upon this pure, sweet countenance the artist cried out in joy, "At last, I have found the face I wanted." So Pietro Bandinelli sat as the model for his picture of Christ. Years passed on, and still the great painting, "The Last Supper," was not finished. The eleven faithful apostles had all been sketched on the canvas and the artist was hunting for a model for his Judas. "I must find a man whose face has hardened and distorted," he said, "a debased man, his features stamped with the ravages only wicked living and a wicked heart can show." Thus he wandered long, in search of his Judas until one day in the streets of Rome he came upon a wretched creature, a beggar in rags with a face of such hard villainous stamp that even the artist was repulsed. But he knew that at last he had found his Judas. So it came about that the beggar with the repulsive countenance sat as the model for Judas. As he was dismissing him Da Vinci said, "I have not yet asked your name, but I will now." "Pietro Bandinelli," replied the man, looking at him unflinchingly. "I also sat to you as the model for your Christ." Astonished, overwhelmed by this startling declaration, Da Vinci would not at first believe it, but the proof was at hand and he had finally to admit that Pietro Bandinelli, he whose fair, sweet face had been the inspiration for his great masterpiece the face of Christ, had now become so disfigured by the sins of a lifetime that no trace was left of that marvelous beauty which before had been the admiration of men.
J. Wilbur Chapman