Jesus, who appeared to be pondering his Passion, looked down at his left hand and saw that it had cracked.
Yesterday at noon, 1,950 years after the Last Supper, 15 hardy students from the Corcoran School of Art transformed one another into slimy pastel statues and then reenacted Leonardo da Vinci's mural on the corner of 17th Street and New York Avenue NW.
Why? you might well ask. That is a good question.
Most of them had been studying ceramics, and contemplating questions of scale and the still life. And clay, they all agreed, could be used for bigger things than coffee cups and ashtrays, and Easter was approaching--and called for celebration--and art students are expected to do the unexpected, and, after all, why not?
Picking Christ was easy. It wasn't that Tom Buske is celibate or sinless, but he does have gentle eyes, long hair and a beard, and so he got the part.
Julia Stoops played Judas. "I did?" said Julia Stoops. Apparently nobody had told her that in Leonardo's painting, the third figure to Christ's right is the betrayer. Stoops, who all along believed she was just another likable disciple, had not tried to look evil. But she did look cold.
All of the performers had been generously coated with slip, or liquid clay. Judas' was green. Christ's was a bright white. Some of the disciples were the color of milk chocolate, but Darrah McCann's coating was a subtle dusty purple, and of that she approved. "I have wanted to be purple all my life," she said.
The actors, slowly hardening, held their poses gamely for, say, half a dozen minutes. The scene there on the lawn was eerily impressive. Iconographically, however, it was not exactly right.
Most of Leonardo's loaves, for one thing, had been replaced by grapes. And while Jesus had collected only 12 disciples, in yesterday's performance there seemed to be 14.
Beneath their coated sheets they wore sandals, jeans and gym shoes. Jesus, it turned out, also had donned a wet suit.
Slip, of course, is slippery. Bob Epstein and his students had mixed 900 pounds of it. "It ith heavy, cold, athringent," observed Chris McCarson, who was covered with the stuff. "And it tathe like dirt." She had cotton up her nose and could hardly talk.
Many students and instructors, warned of the event, observed from the sidewalk. Some smiled, others clapped. Mere passersby looked baffled. Quite soon, it all was over. Shivering and squishing, and messing up the lawn, Christ and his disciples retreated to the parking lot, where, students once again, they poured gallons of the liquid clay over Epstein, their instructor. Then they turned the hose on and washed each other off.