When you hear the words ‘Santa Maria delle Grazie’ in Milano, Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper immediately comes to mind as it is in the refectory of the church’s adjoining Dominican convent that his immortal masterpiece of Unesco heritage is conserved.
But Leonardo's unrivalled work is not the only cultural gem to admire here: a visit to the marvellous church launches visitors back to Milano’s golden era. A historic period of great splendour for the city which saw an unparalleled uprising of art and culture under the Visconti and Sforza rulers. Most notably the court of Ludovico il Moro and Beatrice d’Este was renowned as being the richest and most sumptuous in Italy; the city of Milano played host to the most brilliant and erudite artists, musicians, poets and philosophers over the years, above all, the genius Leonardo.
The church of Santa Maria delle Grazie was founded in 1463 thanks to the contribution of Count Gasparo Vimercati, Francesco Sforza’s commander of troops. Still existing, dating back to that era, is a chapel dedicated to Madonna delle Grazie, Mother of God, who was a venerated benefactor of graces.
Under the direction of Donato Bramante a very large church was built around the chapel with an apse beneath an imposing drum-shaped dome which is well worth admiring from the outside before entering.
At the centre of the apse the sepulchral monument of the Duke of Milano Ludovico il Moro and his wife Beatrice d'Este is adorned with letterings and geometric embellishment, making it a unique type of cenotaph in Milano.
Don’t miss the Chiostro delle rane (Frog Cloister) which is particularly beautiful in springtime. The small cloister is located on the back of the church and is so-called because of the four bronze frogs that adorn the rim of the central circular fountain. Each frog spurts a small jet of water towards the centre of the basin. The cloister is completely square, comprised of five terracotta arches on each side supported by columns and marble capitals with Renaissance motifs. A prefect location for an Instagram pic and a tranquil break away from the chaos of the city streets.
According to Milanese legend, in order to easily access his wife's tomb, Ludovico il Moro commissioned a tunnel connecting the Castello Sforzesco to the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent.