Cenacolo Viciano (The Last Supper): finding Leonardo in Milan

We’d booked our Last Supper tickets well in advance, and duly made our way to Santa Maria della Grazie to collect them at 8.15 on our Sunday in Milan.  The church itself is beautiful and we had a chance to have a quick look before our allotted slot.

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The Last Supper is based in the adjoining convent’s refectory (entered through the yellow building to the left of the very first picture in this post).

Contrary to what you and I may have been watching in Da Vinci’s Demons, Leonardo da Vinci came to Milan from Florence in the 1480s and 90s in the employ of Duke Ludovico Sforza. He seems to have been employed in the decoration of the refectory of the new Dominican Convent at Santa Maria della Grazie for over four years in the 1490s.

His innovative style meant that The Last Supper began to deteriorate relatively early on, while using the room for storage and stables, followed by World War II bomb damage didn’t help. It’s almost unbelievable to think that it wasn’t until the 1970s that serious thought was given to preservation. Today, the visitor enters and exits through an airlock system, with a limited number of visitors per 15 minute session (many galleries could benefit from this type of approach) to aid preservation.

Fifteen minutes were more than enough to appreciate this great work of art, and its counterpart, Crocifissione, by Giovanni Donato Montorfano, which rarely gets a mention. What we don’t see in posters and postcards is the decoration above the main painting, showcasing Sforza heraldry and more, and probably hand-painted by Leonardo.

Later in the day, we got the chance to explore the story of the painting further at the world of Leinardo exhibition near the Duomo. That exhibition creates many of the conceived inventions explored by Leonardo in his codices (which are on display at the city’s Pinocoteca Ambrosiana). This is combined with interactive displays and games to bring Leonardo’s world to life. There was a bit more explanation of the techniques used in the Last Supper, and a digital recreation of that and other paintings, allowing the vivid colour scheme to be reimagined.  Again, though no photos allowed there.

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