The Refectory at Santa Maria delle Grazie is the location for one of the greatest masterpieces of Italian art: Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper.
It was commissioned from the artist by Ludovico Sforza, also known as “il Moro”, the Duke of Milano.
The event depicted is described in the Gospel according to St. John, the moment at which Christ, seated at the centre with his Apostles on both sides, reveals that He will soon be betrayed by one of them, which will lead to His crucifixion.
This intense moment creates a tumult of expressions. Some of the Apostles have risen to their feet, some approaching their Master. Gestures and facial expressions, horror and amazement, surprise and confusion, surround the main character.
This is set within an ingenious perspective that enhances Jesus’ central position. By means of the perspective construction, the artist created the illusion that the refectory continues beyond the end wall, so that spectators can imagine themselves as participants in this event.
Leonardo highlighted the importance of the subject by means of diagonals that lead towards Christ. Everything is connected to Him and revolves around Him.
This monumental work revealed its inherent problems as regards preservation right from the start, due to the fact that Leonardo painted on dry plaster. The artist used the technique generally employed for paintings on wooden panels, instead of using the fresco technique. This caused the painting to deteriorate rapidly and prematurely.
Opposite the Last Supper, there is another very large fresco. This is the Crucifixion painted by Giovanni Donato Montorfano (1495), an artist born in Milano, who painted the fresco in the same years during which Leonardo was working on his masterpiece. The monks, while eating their meals in the presence of these two works, therefore felt themselves embraced by the mercy of God, who had sent His Son to earth for man’s salvation.
A few decades after the work had been painted, the monks opened a door in the wall in order to shorten the time necessary to reach the Refectory from the kitchens, and in doing so they destroyed part of the painting, including Christ’s feet.
According to legend, Leonardo da Vinci painted his self-portrait in the figure of Judas Thaddeus.
During the Second World War, the wall bearing the fresco was saved from air-raid destruction – which destroyed the library - by the sandbags that had been positioned to protect it.
Over the centuries, there have been many attempts to restore the Last Supper. The most recent operation went on for 22 years (1978 to 1999). It succeeded in revealing the original colours and many details that had previously been obscured.
To paint the Last Supper, Leonardo also used some gold and silver. In fact, traces of gold and silver metallic foil has been found and serves as testimony to the artist’s original desire to render the figures realistic, even through the use of precious elements.
The work has been analyzed in countless studies. Esoteric interpretations have been ventured, such as that in Dan Brown’s book The da Vinci code, which offered various readings of the painting.
Booking is compulsory for all types of ticket. Entrance to the Last Supper is allowed only on the day and time booked.
Latecomers will not be allowed to make their visit.
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