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 Bartholomew, James – son of Alphaeus, and Andrew (all surprised); Judas Iscariot, Peter, and John (Judas withdrawn, Peter angry, and John swooning); Thomas, James the Greater, and Philip (Thomas upset, James stunned, and Philip seeking an explanation); and Matthew, Jude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.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 15, 2011

Leonardo da Vinci

April 15, 1452: Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci is born. He was the son of Piero da Vinci, a local notary or lawyer. His mother was a peasant woman name Caterina and she was not married to his father. Leonardo was a polymath, meaning he was interested in a variety of topics. He was a painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. He was the archetype of the Renaissance Man. He is considered one of the greatest painters of all time and in addition was one of the most diversely talented people, as well.

Leonardo lived in a small town of Anchiano with his mother until he was five. He moved to his father’s house in 1457. At his father’s house, he was informally educated in Latin, geometry, and mathematics. He was not a particularly apt student. At age fourteen, he was apprenticed to a Florentine painter, Andrea di Cione, and known as Verrocchio. This studio was “one of the finest in Florence.” Other renowned artists were also trained there. It was here he was exposed to many other intellectual ideas and pursuits. By age 20, Leonardo qualified as a master in the Guild of St. Luke, the guild for artists and doctors.

In 1478, Leonardo received his first independent commission from the Monks of San Donato a Scopeto. By the early 1480s, Lorenzo de Medici had lured Leonardo to Milan. He wrote a famous letter to the Duke of Milan offering himself as an engineer and mentioning that he also painted. Leonardo spent many years in Milan and created beautiful works of art. However, in 1499 war broke out and he left the region for Venice. In 1502 he drew a map of Cesare Borgia’s stronghold and won his patronage. This map making was a new idea and proved useful. Leonardo moved around Italy, and worked with many influential personages.

In 1515, France recaptured Milan, Italy. Leonardo was a mediator at a meeting between Pope Leo X and the French monarch, Francis I. Francis hired Leonardo to create a mechanical lion which could walk forward, then open its chest to reveal a cluster of lilies. He was in France, working on this project when he died on May 2, 1519. By this time, he had become a great friend of the king’s who was with him as he died. He was 67 years old.

“Shadow is not the absence of light, merely the obstruction of the luminous rays by an opaque body. Shadow is of the nature of darkness. Light is of the nature of a luminous body; one conceals and the other reveals.”

“We, by our arts may be called the grandsons of God.”

“Men born in hot countries love the night because it refreshes them and have a horror of light because it burns them; and therefore they are of the colour of night, that is black. And in cold countries it is just the contrary.”

“As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death.” – all from Leonardo da Vinci

Also on this day:
Going for the Gold – In 1896 the first Modern Olympic Games come to an end.
Cartography – in 1924, Rand McNally published its first atlas.

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