The Last Supper is preserved in the refectory of the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. It was selected as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980 and it has an interesting history full of curiosities. It withstood restoration and bombings and it is still visible today in all its splendor.
The florentine artist painted it on commission of Ludovico il Moro (Duke of Milan) between 1494 and 1497 on the wall of the refectory of the milanese convent. The city of Milan was always dear to Leonardo who, right here, could give life to his most exceptional inventions and some of his most famous works.
The construction of Santa Maria delle Grazie began in 1463. There were two important phases in its construction: that of the architect Guiniforte Solari, chief engineer of the Duomo and of the Certosa di Pavia, and a second phase dated between 1480 and 1497. In 1492, Ludovico Sforza commissioned Donato Bramante, one of the most sought-after architects of the peninsula, to work on the building because he wanted to enlarge it and place inside it his and his wife's remains.
The complex consists of the church and the convent composed of a basilica, a library, three cloisters and a refectory. It is precisely in this last room, and in particular in the north wall, that masterpiece is located.
The site was severely damaged by bombing in 1943, but then completely restored and renovated. The Last Supper miraculously survived the allied bombings. There is evidence of restoration work from the eighteenth century to the present day.
The Last Supper
The painting radically transforms the classical interpretation of the Last Supper. It depicts a very particular moment of the event, perhaps the most intense. Jesus is depicted among the twelve apostles immediately after his declaration "one of you will betray me". Each apostle, portrayed according to specific and distinct expressions, wonders who the betrayer might be. In this picture, Leonardo focuses on the reactions and emotions triggered by Jesus' words.
For the Last Supper, the artist chose not to use the fresco technique because he needed to intervene assiduously and modify the details of the work. On a double layer of plaster, Leonardo applied tempera mixed with oil, directly on the drywall. In this way, he was able to correct the work day after day according to his numerous afterthoughts and achieve an extraordinarily realistic effect, capturing every nuance of light on the faces of the apostles and the objects depicted.
Unfortunately, Leonardo's innovative technique proved to be very delicate. As already mentioned, over the course of time, the Last Supper needed continuous restoration, the last of which was completed, after 20 years of work, in 1999. Given its fragility, the painting has never been moved from its original location where it still resides under the eyes of hundreds of visitors.
Currently, one of the most important and difficult aspects of the conservation of the fresco is the pollution caused by the large number of tourists. Continuous monitoring is carried out to ensure optimal atmospheric conditions inside the refectory and thus avoid deterioration of the work.
UNESCO World Heritage
The Last Supper is one of the most famous paintings of the Italian Renaissance and art history in general. Millions of visitors come from all over the world to admire this UNESCO heritage. The uniqueness of this property is also in its fragility. The difficult technique used, the continuous restorations have made it famous not only for its beauty, but also for its unique history as the genius who gave life to it.
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