Little Bits of History

Beautiful Dining

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 28, 2013
The Last Supper

The Last Supper

May 28, 1999: After 21 years of restorative work, Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper is placed back on display. The painting was made on dry plaster rather than wet, so it is not a true fresco. A fresco cannot be modified as the artist works. Da Vinci therefore sealed a stone wall with pitch, gesso, and mastic (two types of resins and a chalky substance) and then painted with tempura, a type of paint made by mixing the color in an egg medium. Because of the method used, the mural began to deteriorate quickly after completion.

The painting is 15 feet by 29 feet and was painted on the back walls of the dining hall at Santa Maria della Grazie, a convent in Milan, Italy during the years 1495-1498 (it is thought). As early as 1517, the paint was flaking. By 1556 the work was described as “ruined” and the figures deemed unrecognizable. In 1652 a doorway was cut through the wall, further damaging the mural and has since been bricked up again. There have been many restorations, beginning in 1726. The building itself sustained damage, being bombed during World War II.

The painting was done portraying each of the disciples as they reacted to Jesus’ prediction that one of his 12 chosen would betray him. There are four groups of three disciples with Jesus at the center. Bartholomew, James – son of Alphaeus, and Andrew (all surprised); Judas Iscariot, Peter, and John (Judas withdrawn, Peter angry, and John swooning); Thomas, James the Greater, and Philip (Thomas upset, James stunned, and Philip seeking an explanation); and Matthew, Jude Thaddeus, and Simon the Zealot (the first two turned to Simon looking for clarification).

By the late 1970s, the mural was in terrible shape. For 21 years (1978-1999) Pinin Brambilla Barcilon led a major restoration project. Since it was not possible to move the artwork, the venue itself was altered to produce a controlled environment to protect the work. The use of infrared reflectoscopy and microscopic core samples along with original sketches guided the restoration. The painting can now be viewed by appointment only and the visitor is permitted to stay for only 15 minutes.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

“Iron rusts from disuse; water loses its purity from stagnation … even so does inaction sap the vigour of the mind.”

“Where there is shouting, there is no true knowledge.” – all from Leonardo da Vinci

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, is presumed to be the sponsor for this work.  He lived from 1452 until 1508 and was the patron for the Milanese Renaissance. Ludovico was the fourth son of Francesco I Sforza and his older brother assumed control of Milan at their father’s death. Galeazzo was not well received and after his assassination in 1476, there was a struggle for power between Gian, his seven year old son, and Ludovico, his brother. Despite the boy’s mother’s attempts, Ludovico wrested power and ruled over Milan for the next 13 years as regent. Leonardo da Vinci helped plan the wedding of Ludovico and Beatrice d’Este in 1491. The couple had two children (and Ludovico also had two other illegitimate children). He died as a prisoner of the French at the castle of Loches at the age of 55.

Also on this day It Can’t Be Done – In 1937 the Golden Gate Bridge is opened to traffic.
Sierra Club – In 1892, John Muir became the club’s first president.
Five – In 1934, the Dionne quintuplets were born.

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