After the Last Supper : Christ washes the Feet of his Apostles; 1200; miniature on vellum; manuscript KB 76 F 5; Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague


The washing of feet

Unerstand the scene

What you can see in this picture……

Jesus washes the feet of the apostle Peter.

Jesus is on his knees, he leans over a bowl of water and for this work he has his “loins girded”, that is to say that his loose garment has been tucked inside his belt to prevent it from hanging loose. He is then as a servant at work.

Peter is sitting; he is surprised by Jesus’ gesture and puts his hand to his head to illustrate the biblical dialogue. To Peter who protests, Jesus declares: “If I do not wash you, you have no part with me.” Simon Peter then answers “Simon Peter said to him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” (John 13:8-9)

and in other pictures


The scene takes place in a vast room, that of the Last Supper of Jesus and his apostles; it is night and the room is lit.

 The other apostles wait for their turn; some seem attentive, others undo their sandals.


The biblical narrative

The Gospel according to John, chapter 13

 Before the feast of Easter, at the Last Supper during which Jesus is with his apostles:

...He rose from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poured water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded.
Then he came to Simon Peter: and Peter said to him: "Lord, are you washing my feet?" Jesus answered and said to him: "What I do you do not know now; but you shall know after this." Peter said to him : "you shall never wash my feet !" Jesus answered him : "If I do not wash you, you have no part with me" Simon-Peter said to him : "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head …"


When he has finished, he says to them:

For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.
Verily, verily, I say to you, The servant is not greater than his lord; nor is he that is sent greater than he that sent him.
(John 13:4-16)



The Washing of feet is a gesture of hospitality in a country where people walk in the dust but this gesture is made by the lowest of servants. Jesus thus shows he is the Servant and he invites his disciples to wash one another’s feet and then to be one another’s servants.


See similar pictures


These two representations emphasize Peter’s gesture and the other apostles’ great haste, but Duccio keeps the oriental frontal view, whereas Bening places the scene in a long narrow hospital ward.


The Washing of Feet; DUCCIO di Buoninsegna; 1308-11; tempera on wood panel. Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena, Italy

Web Gallery of Art



Christ washing the Apostles’ Feet; Simon BENING; c.1525-1530; tempera, gold paint, gold leaf, and ink on parchment; J. Paul Getty, Los Angeles

The J. Paul Getty Museum


Two original compositions but which rightly put back the washing of feet before the Last Supper; the table is visible and laid. The stress is put on the relation between Peter and Christ but, while Brown’s apostles admire, Tintoretto’s seem to fool around.


Christ washing Peter’s Feet; Ford Madox BROWN; 1852-56; oil on canvas; Tate Collection, London

Tate Collections



Christ washing his Disciples’ Feet; Jacopo TINTORETTO; c. 1547-49; oil on canvas; Museo del Prado, Madrid

Mark Harden's Artchive  




Further developpements


 The gesture of washing the feet

still has a meaning in the Orient but for us it is anachronistic. Nowadays one offers a shower to the guest who has just arrived from a journey. Is it a similar sign of purification from exterior impurities? Is it a similar sign of hospitality and integration into the family?



This gesture was adopted by monastic communities for the religious ceremony on Maundy Thursday (Thursday before Easter). It became very important in England where on each Laundry Thursday, the King washed the feet of a certain number of poor people and then distributed alms to them. The ceremony was suppressed at the Court of London in 1736. It has remained in Rome and has been taken up in Catholic churches for the celebration of Maundy Thursday.


Maundy Thursday in Noumea’s cathedral.



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