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Da Vincis Last Supper has become one of the most widely appreciated masterpieces in the world. It began to acquire its unique reputation immediately after it was finished in 148 and its prestige has never diminished. Despite the many changes in tastes, artistic styles, and rapid physical deterioration of the painting itself, the paintings status as an extraordinary creation has never been questioned nor doubted.


The perfection of this work lies not only in the artistic merits of the painting, but also in Leonardos expressive mastery. Leonardos Last Supper is an ideal pictorial representation of the most important event in the Christian doctrine of salvation - the institution of the Eucharist. His representation of this part of the Christian story has achieved a unanimous accceptance and authority. No other painting of a Christian subject dominates our imagination with the same power of Da Vincis Last Supper. There are countless copies and reproductions of this particular painting in homes, places of worship, and museums throughout the world. However, when thoughts turn to the Last Supper, we seem to see only Leonardos representation before us.


The painting has also been subject to much attention due to the number of restorations it has had to face since its completion in the fifteenth century. The most recent restoration lasted twenty years and has been the subject of much controversy. The painting that remains so influential has been frequently referred to as repainted, not restored. However, restoration has been an ongoing reality with this masterpiece due to unprecedented manner in which Leonardo painted it. Although restoration may have altered Leonardos painting to a degree, it has prolonged the life of this painting for future generations to appreciate and view.


Along with Michelangelos David, this is undoubtedly one of the most famous art works in Italy. Everyone has heard that it was recently restored and finally unveiled after years and years during which the public was not allowed to see it. But did you know why Leonardo painted this particular subject? Did you know that it is one of the most popular subjects and that almost every Renaissance painter worth his salt has a cenacolo (as they are called in Italian) under his belt? The setting of this masterpiece may give you your best clue, for it is hanging on the wall of the refectory in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. What is a refectory? Why, it is the large hall where monks and nuns take their meals. Traditionally, the good brothers and sisters were supposed to talk as little as possible during their repasts, and so it was very common to give them inspirational art to contemplate as they chewed. What better subject for a refectory than the most famous meal in the Bible?


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Leonardo painted this jewel between 145 and 147. But as great an artist as he was, Da Vinci (a nickname which means from the town of Vinci) was not trained in the art of fresco, and so instead of putting the greatest emphasis on the correct techniques and materials, he concentrated on the artistic effect he wanted to achieve, relying on oil and egg tempera, a combination which never really melded with the dry gesso foundation. Over the years, the colors faded, spotted and even fell to the ground. It didnt help, either, that the good monks later decided to cut a doorway right into a corner of the scene! In the 0th century, Leonardos Last Supper became as famous for its pitiful state of disrepair as for its exquisite artistic rendering.


Today the fresco has been brilliantly restored, and we can see what all the fuss was about. Leonardos painting stands out from so many others because of the intense and perspicacious way that he depicted the psyches of his subjects. He chose to portray them just at the moment when Christ is telling them there is a traitor amongst them, but before He singles out the culprit. Careful observation shows how each of the men reacts, some with shock, others with fear, others with anger. The only person in the room whose face seems utterly calm is Christ himself. It is said that Leonardo was able to achieve these subtleties thanks to the countless hours he had spent studying anatomy. Standing in front of the fresco, aided by the fact that the room in the picture is the refectory itself, and the artist used the actual shape of the real walls to accentuate the dynamics of his artificial scene, one is able to understand why Leonardo Da Vinci is considered one of the greatest artists of all times.


It isnt tremendously convenient to visit The Last Supper, but it is well worth the effort. The front doors close 45 minutes before closing time, Tuesday-Saturday 815 a.m.-645 p.m., Advance reservations are absolutely mandatory. Only twenty people can visit the artwork at a time, for a maximum of fifteen minutes.





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