The story of the Leonardo de Vinci’s, The Last Supper, begins at a simple, yet elegant Santa Maria delle Grazie, nestled within the winding streets of Milan. This UNESCO site was erected as a Dominican convent in 1469. The priests of the Dominican Order preferred to live in communities outside the church. So, they uniquely constructed Santa Maria delle Grazie within the constricting center of Milan, despite the lack of space for lavish gardens. Originally, its architecture was modest and simple.
Soon after its completion, the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Maria Sforza, choose the Santa Maria delle Grazie to be the Sforza family burial site. He ordered the cloister and apse to be rebuilt with a suitable splendor. Today, you can distinctly see both the modest and the extravagant architecture. The rebuilding of the church was bothersome for the priests, so the Duke commissioned Leonardo de Vinci to paint The Last Supper as a gift. It was painted in the refectory of the church. This was a place where only the priests entered to eat meals. In this way, the painting was a private tribute for the priests.
Leonardo de Vinci choose to paint The Last Supper in a fashion uncommon to wall murals. Fresco Style was the typical method, which required wetting and preparing small pieces of the wall to paint over. The sections dried quickly and permanently. It was not possible to paint layers or redo the sections. De Vinci wished to meditate for lengthy periods while painting. He also wanted the ability to slightly change the picture during the process. Therefore, he chose to paint on the dry, unprepared wall. After the four leisurely years he took to complete The Last Supper, he realized his mistake. He had painted on the outside wall of the church’s kitchen. The humidity and heat from the kitchen caused the paint to flake and deteriorate. At the same time, the Duke of Milan died, ending his family lineage. Without his patron, Leonardo could not restore his painting. In addition, the Santa Maria delle Grazie could never be used as the Sforza family burial site.
The priests struggled to preserve their painting. They allowed artists to copy the painting. However, the copies were renditions and didn’t capture the message Leonardo had depicted. They also allowed artists to darken the fading colors of the original painting. However, over time the facial expressions in the picture slightly changed, again altering its message. For example, Leonardo depicted The Supper as the moment before Jesus states that someone will betray him. In the original painting, Jesus’s mouth is opened just slightly as he is about to speak. Over time, artists began to extensively open Jesus’s mouth, which takes away the special moment that Leonard had depicted. Additionally, many of the copies of The Last Supper have Judas, in the front of the table, as he is the traitor. However, De Vinci painted the moment before Judas was realized as the betrayer; therefore he painted Judas behind the table with the other apostles.
The survivability of The Last Supper was further threatened during WWII when a bomb landed in the courtyard of the Santa Maria delle Grazie. It landed nearly 80 feet from The Last Supper. Miraculously, the mural survived. Today, the museum is built with the only surviving pieces of the wall still around the Last Supper.
In the late 1970s, a major restoration of The Last Supper brought out the original painting. Using new technology, scientists removed the layers of paint that had covered Leonardo De Vinci’s work. This process took over 20 years to complete. Today, you can see the original message that he had depicted.
The Last Supper portrays the reaction of each apostle at the moment that Jesus begins to open his mouth to say that one of them will betray him. It is a scene before Judas is ever determined as the traitor. The apostles nearest Jesus have a stronger relationship with Jesus, and they knowingly wait in anticipation. The apostles farthest from Jesus are in discussion because they are uncertain about what is happening. Judas is appears withdrawn and startled by the revelation of his plan.
Only John and Judas have different tones of skin compared to the other bodies. John is white symbolizing his good soul, and Judas is dark skinned with a dark soul. Peter is between John and Judas as a representation of church. John is facing Judas, which symbolizes that people face their darker souls in the church. The message suggests that even though people are not perfect, sin happens at the moment of choice. Judas had the chance to not betray until the exact moment Jesus uncovered his plans.
The table of the Last Supper is actually larger than the surrounding, painted room. This illusion pops the table into a clear view while cramming the apostles on the sides into the intense moment. In addition, the entire painting is huge with the dimensions of 15 by 29 feet. On Jesus’s cheek, a small hole can be seen where Leonardo De Vinci used a nail as the vanishing point of the picture. He used a rope to draw the room with perfect geometry.
Visiting The Last Supper requires reservation months in advance, for only a 15-minute viewing allowance. The feeling of anticipation, followed by utter amazement exemplifies the story of The Last Supper.