The Last Supper in Milan

Last Supper in Milan

The Last Supper or Cenacolo is one of the most widely represented subjects in the history of Christian Art because it not only commemorates Jesus’ farewell meal with his twelve disciples but also his offering them his body and blood in the shape of the bread and the wine. The institution of the Eucharist and its re-enactment every time a Holy mass is celebrated is still today one of the most significant moments of the Catholic rite.

Before Leonardo’s masterpiece was carried out artists seemed to be more interested in the religious aspect of the Last Supper rather than in the investigation of human feelings that follows the announcement of Jesus’ imminent betrayal by one of them. As a thunderstorm the revelation strikes the apostles who react shocked and bewildered. They are human beings an as such they give away their emotions involving us in a theatrical drama.

The Last Supper execution at St. Maria delle Grazie took a few years because of Leonardo’s erratic methods: he started simultaneously working on several assignments and moved from one to another leaving often unfinished a great part of them. In the case of the Cenacolo this practise influenced his choice of technique: not the well experimented fresco but a medium based on egg, called tempera, that allowed reworking and subsequent retouches.

Hailed as a masterpiece and “held in the greatest veneration by the Milanese and by foreigners as well”, as art historian Giorgio Vasari quotes in his “Lives of the Artists”, even the King of France, Louis XII, after conquering the State of Milano and ousting the Sforzas was so drawn by the beauty of Leonardo’s composition to consider having it removed from the wall and taken away.

Today we can argue that if the choice of a mural support and of an inadequate technique resulted in the immediate and irreversible deterioration of Leonardo’s Last Supper, conversely the same reasons have also thwarted whatever attempt to strip the masterpiece from its original premises.