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The Last Supper Da Vinci - Da Vinci's The Last Supper

painting restoration mural wall

The Last Supper is a mural which was created by da Vinci in the 15th century. The painting represents The Last Supper, the last meal which Jesus had with his apostles. It was described in detail in St. John’s Gospel.

The mural is located in the dining room of the monastery named Santa Maria delle Grazie in the Italian city of Milan and covers an entire wall. The piece of art was commissioned by Duke Ludovico Sforza and his wife, the Duchess Beatrice d’Este. Da Vinci began the work on the painting in the year 1495 and was finished in 1498.

The painting of the The Last Supper was meant to display the reaction of each of the apostles after being told by Jesus that he would be betrayed by one of them. Because of the purpose of the painting, da Vinci drew all of the men sitting facing the viewer. Judas, who ended up being Jesus’ traitor, sits in shadow and Jesus sits in the middle of the painting. The Last Supper was painted with moist plaster onto a dry wall. After the painting was complete, da Vinci used pitch, mastic, and gesso to seal the painting onto the wall. He then used tempera as an additional layer of sealant. The mural was not sealed in a way which would last. Therefore, The Last Supper began to deteriorate only a few years after its completion and is in quite poor condition today.

The deterioration of the painting began in 1517 and in 1556, it was determined to be completely ruined by Giorgio Vasari, who wrote a biography of da Vinci. At this point, the figures in the painting were not able to be recognized. In the year 1652, a door was cut into the back wall on which the painting resides and was later closed. An arch is still visible on the wall at the bottom of the painting where the doorway was located. In order to prevent further deterioration of the painting, a curtain was placed over the mural. However, instead, it served to destroy the painting even further by flaking off chips of paint.

The initial restoration was begun in 1726 with the filling of sections of the painting through the use of oil paint covered with varnish. Unfortunately, this restoration did not hold and another attempt was made in 1770. Giuseppe Mazza began to repaint the majority of the mural, in particular, all of the faces except for three. When the French army used the monastery as a military armory, they destroyed the painting even further with stones and scratching. In 1821, a fresco expert named Stefano Barezzi came in to transfer the painting only to realize that da Vinci’s painting was not an actual fresco. In the process, he further damaged a large amount of the mural. Further restoration was attempted several times in the early 20th century, the purpose of which was to clean and stabilize the painting.

It is believed that the painting was further damaged in World War II when bombs struck the monastery. Following the war, restoration was again performed on The Last Supper. When the painting was again examined in the 1970s, it was in very bad condition. A large restoration project was undergone by Pinin Brambilla Barcilon for more than two decades, from 1978 to 1999. During this project, they stabilized the painting as well as attempted to reverse dirt and pollution damage. They also attempted to undo the damage that was done during previous restoration projects. In order to prevent additional deterioration, the monastery was made into a climate controlled, sealed environment. The areas that were not able to be restored were painted using watercolor pains so as to distinguish between the redone parts and the original painting.

The restoration took a very long period of time and was not displayed again until May 28th 1999. However, due to the desire to maintain the environment in which the painting resides, visitors are required to schedule their visit and can only remain in the room for a period of less than 15 minutes. When the painting was again put on display, there was a large amount of controversy regarding its new appearance, particularly its new coloring.

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