The story of probably the most renowned painting in the world. A work three years in the making, Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper remains one of the greatest masterpieces of all time. Even over 500 years after the painting was completed, this piece remains one of the most studied paintings in history.
The Private Life of a Masterpiece
The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci depicts the dramatic moment when Christ tells his disciples that one of them will betray him. From it’s creation in 1495, the fresco has withstood a number of dramatic events, including two world wars, looters, bombings and a number of attempts to destroy the work. The conservation techniques used to restore the painting throughout the centuries, are almost as controversial as its subject matter.
The Last Supper measures 460 cm × 880 cm and covers an end wall of the dining hall at the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. The theme was a traditional one for refectories, although the room was not a refectory at the time that Leonardo painted it. The main church building had only recently been completed (in 1498), but was remodeled by Bramante, hired by Ludovico Sforza to build a Sforza family mausoleum.
The painting was commissioned by Sforza to be the centerpiece of the mausoleum. The lunettes above the main painting, formed by the triple arched ceiling of the refectory, are painted with Sforza coats-of-arms.
The opposite wall of the refectory is covered by the Crucifixion fresco by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano, to which Leonardo added figures of the Sforza family in tempera. (These figures have deteriorated in much the same way as has The Last Supper.)
Leonardo began work on The Last Supper in 1495 and completed it in 1498—he did not work on the painting continuously. The beginning date is not certain, as the archives of the convent for the period have been destroyed, and a document dated 1497 indicates that the painting was nearly completed at that date.