When one refers to the name Leonardo da Vinci, “The Last Supper” is considered as one of his finest works.
The painting was commissioned by Sforza to be the centre piece of the mausoleum at the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan, Italy and measures some 15 feet x 29 feet in size.
The disciples sit either side of Jesus as depicted in the picture, all displaying facial emotions, which relate to him telling them he would be betrayed by one of them.
Looking at the picture we see Bartholomew, James son of Alphaeus and Andrew form a group of three, with a surprised look upon their faces, and seated on the far left. Next we have Judas Iscariot, Peter and John form the next group of three; Judas partly covers his face, Peter shows anger and John looks ready to confront the perpetrator.
Jesus sits in the middle backed by three windows.
Thomas, James the Greater and Phillip sit as another group of three to his right. Thomas is upset by such a suggestion, James appears stunned and Phillip seeks an answer. Mathew, Jude Thaddeus and Simon the Zealot make up the final group of three; Jude and Mathew gaze at Simon believing he has the answer.
Over the centuries the image has fallen apart. The reason for this is that if Leonardo had kept to the time old tradition of using tempera on wet plaster, the proffered method for fresco paintings, rather than experimenting using dry plaster for a more varied palette. The image might have stood up to the years of neglect.
Instead his experimental method, proved to be a failure, and neglect saw the painting undergo many restorations over the centuries.
The painting was completed on 9th February 1498, and early signs of flaking were visible by 1517.
- In 1652 a doorway was cut through the picture but later bricked up.
- In 1726 Michelangelo Bellotti carried out a restoration by filling in missing parts using oil paint, and then varnished the whole picture.
- In 1768, a curtain was hung over it as a form of protection, but when pulled back it scratched at the flaking paint.
- In 1770 Giuseppe Mazza stripped off Bellotti’s repair, and repainted nine of the faces, but was halted due to public outrage.
In 1796 the French revolutionary troops used the refectory as an armoury, and threw stones at the image and later it became a prison.
- In 1821 Stefano Barezzi attempted the removal of the painting, but was forced to re-attach damaged parts with glue.
- In 1901-1908 Luigi Cavenaghi studied the structure of the painting, and cleaned it.
- In 1921 Oreste Silvestri cleaned it further, and stabilised parts using stucco.
During World War II, the refectory wall was protected with sandbags, and managed to survive, when on 15th August 1943, the refectory was bombed.
- 1951-1954 Mauro Pelliccioli cleaned and restored the image.
- 1978-1999 Pinn Brambilla Barcilon undertook a restoration project to save this most important work from total destruction.
On the 28th May 1999 the painting was put back on show, for the entire world to see.