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Leonardo’s Last Supper. A UNESCO work of genius in Milan

Tuesday, 31 May 2022 09:52

The Dominican church and convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, and Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper were among the very first Italian treasures recognized by Unesco in 1980, coming right after the Valcamonica rock engravings. The monumental convent, designed by Swiss engineer and architect Guiniforte Solari, is worth a visit for its paintings and decorations alone. It took more than a century of work by dozens of painters to complete it, and there were subsequent interventions by Bramante and Cristoforo Solari.

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An admirable work of human ingenuity

However, one fresco in particular stands out, and it also influenced the design of the building. The refectory of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie houses, conserves, protects, and guards one of the most admirable works of human ingenuity. Here at the end of the 1400s Leonardo Da Vinci's genius merged fine art and revolutionary technological solutions that were avant-garde for the time, creating his Last Supper which is considered the most famous representation of this biblical scene.

A 21-year restoration 

The fresco, which miraculously survived the Anglo-American bombings of 1943 that destroyed several walls of the church and the convent, including part of the refectory, is a wonderful painting that, through the use of different pictorial techniques, depicts an incredible group of figures. Leonardo Da Vinci created the large painting using his own technique, which was not like that used for traditional frescoes as it required quick layers of plaster that dried fast. So Leonardo mixed tempera and oil, overlapping two layers of plaster to achieve a smooth surface. Alas the humidity of the refectory walls caused the painting to detach over the centuries, and the work was the subject of one of the longest and most painstaking restorations ever, lasting 21 years between the 1970s and 1990s, and using the most advanced technologies of the day.

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