Well, it is our last day in Europe. Thanks to the advice from some people on our tour, Fran and Nancy, we decided to go see Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. We got very lucky to get tickets as you normally have to book in advance. We searched several sites and had almost given up, when we finally found 2 tickets. More about that later. It was a beautiful sunny day so we went a bit early so we could go see the Duomo in the sunlight. We had to coordinate shuttles and trains to get downtown and then walk to find the Duomo, but we found it (much easier when the tour bus and tour manager take you there). It looks a whole lot different on a bright sunshine day. If you compare these pictures with the ones we posted in April you can see this for yourself. The Last Supper is painted in the refectory (dining room) of the Dominican convent attached to Santa Maria Delle Grazie. We high-tailed it to the tour group meeting point to be sure we were not late (as you only get 15 minutes with the painting). We were there early enough for Don to go in to the church and take some pictures (5 and 6). We learned a lot about The Last Supper. Prepare yourself because we want to remember what we heard, so we are being detailed for our future edification. The painting is a depiction of the moment that Christ told his disciples that one of them was going to betray him. The way da Vinci portrayed the disciples as humans (without halos as was customary at that time) was quite revolutionary. Also, the method he used pain the mural was new and different for that time. He started in 1495 and completed in 1498 (he did not work on it continuously). Leonardo chose not to do a fresco, which was very popular at the time. Fresco is a technique of painting on wet lime plaster. Water is used as the vehicle for the pigment to merge with the plaster, and when the plaster sets, the painting is an integral part of the wall. This of course makes the painting last. There is a fresco of the crucifixion on the opposite wall in the dining room that was painted at the same time as The Last Supper (next to the last picture). Its colors are still bright and the details in the picture are sharp . By the way, the last two pictures are pictures of post cards – photos are not allowed. Anyway, back to Leonardo. He chose not to do a fresco because with that method you have to work quickly, you cannot correct mistakes and you could not achieve the shadows and detail that he wanted to create. So he painted on a dry wall, which unfortunately caused the picture to be subject to deterioration from humidity. It also did not help that on the other side of the wall was a kitchen. The painting started to flake very quickly, so unfortunately as soon as 60 years after it was painted, it had deteriorated quite a bit. The first restoration was attempted in 1726 and there were many attempts for the next 200 years. The restorations changed the colors and the technique that da Vinci used. There were other challenges for the painting. When Napoleon took over Milan, he turned the room into a stable. On August 15th, 1943, an Allied bomb hit the refectory. They had put sandbags against the wall to protect the painting, but the vibrations from the bombs caused damage. The painting was exposed to the outside for years before the refectory was re-built. By the 1970s, the painting was in very bad shape. From 1978 to 1999, Pinin Brambilla Barcilon guided a major restoration project which undertook to stabilize the painting, and reverse the damage caused by dirt and pollution. The 18th- and 19th-century restoration attempts were also reverted. Since it had proved impractical to move the painting to a more controlled environment, the refectory was instead converted to a sealed, climate controlled environment.. Then, detailed study was undertaken to determine the painting’s original form, using scientific tests and original drawings preserved in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle. The painting that is there today is the original as Leonardo da Vinci painted it (minus the paint that has flaked off). When you see the painting, many of the details are not visible anymore and the colors are definitely different in different areas, but the painting is a sight to behold. Up close, the detail of what he painted is amazing and from a distance, the picture looks almost 3-D – Jesus and the disciples look almost real. It is definitely worth seeing it if you are ever in Milan.
May 26th, 2015 – Milan – Italy