Art Defense Fund creators Margaret MacKinnon and Wayne McArdle with 'double' adopteR Beverley McLachlin.

Art Defense Fund creators Margaret MacKinnon and Wayne McArdle with 'double' adopteR Beverley McLachlin.

Who’s Involved

While the appeal of adopting any one of the eleven saintly Apostles in Plautilla Nelli's masterful painting of the Last Supper was undeniable, it was less certain that Judas Iscariot, the not-so-saintly Apostle, would find a welcoming home. IA Council member Margaret MacKinnon tells the story.

“My husband, Wayne McArdle, and I viewed him as akin to an unpopular defendant in a criminal trial. However unsavoury his character or nefarious his (alleged!) deeds, Judas was entitled to a fair hearing and a fulsome defence. And thus the Art Defense Fund for Judas (ADF) was created. Rather than seek one brave soul to save Judas, we would look for ten advocates willing, collectively, to take on Judas's case. It was no coincidence that this lightbulb moment occurred at a gathering in February this year of eminent judges and lawyers at Gray's Inn in London where we were celebrating the distinguished career of Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin who had just retired after long years of service on Canada's highest court. As a retirement gift, Wayne and I had adopted Judas Thaddeus, more commonly referred to as Saint Jude, in honour of Chief Justice McLachlin. After that, we set our sights on the 'other Judas'.

Six months on from the event at Gray's Inn, we are now able to answer the question 'who will want to adopt Judas?' In purely numerical terms the answer is: eleven generous donors - eight women and three men - from four countries and three continents, ranging in age from 45 to 95.”

Here’s a word about them:

By chance, Beverley Mclachlin had attended a revival of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar not long before she learned about the ADF. She had been struck by the ambivalence of the character of Judas. When Christ urges him to 'hurry - they are waiting', Judas replies, 'you want me to do it! What if I just stayed here and ruined your ambition?' 'I started to look at Judas in a new light,' says Beverley. 'I saw him as a more nuanced character and less as a pantomime villain.'

Similarly, British historian and novelist Sarah Dunant was instinctively drawn to the dramatic tension of the story of Christ's betrayal and the crucial role that Judas played in setting in motion the events that led not only to the crucifixion - but also to the salvation of humanity through the resurrection.

For English barrister Nicholas Davidson, the Arts Defense Fund represented a perfect application of the 'Cab Rank' Rule - according to which barristers, like cab drivers, are obliged to take the next customer in the queue. Which defense lawyer has not, at some time, taken on a disreputable client or a shaky case - all in support of the greater cause of justice? The ADF drew support from other legally-trained sponsors, namely, Ingrid Furtado, a South African lawyer now living in London, and Susan Mazza a some-time resident of Florence, who recently retired from legal practice in California.

Support for Judas also came from long-standing friends of AWA such as travel specialist and author Mark Gordon Smith and AWA International Advisory Council member Elizabeth Negrey. Mark, from North Carolina, was a generous supporter of the FirstLast Crowdfunding Campaign, riding in as a white knight at the eleventh hour with a significant contribution to ensure that the campaign met its target. Elizabeth has been an advocate for many AWA projects and a strong supporter of AWA's mission. The ADF was just one more opportunity for them to show their unwavering commitment.

Conversely, Brenda Schneider and her daughter Jennifer Schneider are recent converts to the AWA cause but are no less fervent for that. While attending a charity event in Italy in August, Brenda and Jennifer were introduced to AWA, Nelli's Last Supper and the Art Defense Fund by Jane Adams, AWA's Partner Relations Manager. They both jumped at the chance to support AWA and Nelli's historic painting by joining the ADF. That moment of discovering the existence of so many invisible women artists - and learning that there is an organisation devoted to giving those women a voice - is a familiar one to all of us at AWA.

Among the reasons Canadian banker, Michael Furtado (and husband of Ingrid) chose to sign on to the ADF was the thought of being able to take his two young daughters to view the finished painting in the Museum of Santa Maria Novella. At the other end of the age spectrum, the ADF's oldest member at 94, Monica Martin, another Canadian, is no longer up to to trans-Atlantic travel (although age did not stop her from driving from Toronto to Las Vegas just a couple of years ago to play the slots!) Monica recalled a trip to Venice some fifty years ago, touring the churches filled with paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, Bellini ... 'All men!' she said. 'Not one woman.' She was delighted to be able to help in bringing Nelli's Last Supper out of the storage vaults to be restored and exhibited in its rightful place beside other great Renaissance works.

To all of our generous ADF members: Heartfelt thanks.