A Twenty Year Restoration
(Image- Christ prior to latest restoration 1977-1999)
According to recent studies, although discontinuously, Leonardo da Vinci started working on the Last Supper in 1492 and completed it in early 1498. It was indeed an ambitious project conducted with an experimental technique that failed to resist and within 20 years the painting was already showing signs of deterioration. Nonetheless it seems quite amazing that the latest of at least 11 restoration campaigns has spanned slightly more than two decades (1977 – 1999).
The poor shape in which the mural (m. 4,6 x m. 8,8) reached us after centuries of painful and destructive retouches, the ravages of time and of World War II bombardments are some of the reasons that resulted in the most extensive and thorough campaign of restoration the painting has ever gone through.
Commissioned by the Superintendency for Architectural and Natural Heritage and carried out under the direction of Pinin Brambilla Barcilon and her team of restorers, Leonardo’s masterpiece has been scrutinized and studied in the tiniest speck of medium and we can reasonably argue that no painting has been so praised and inspiring: a veritable icon for generations of scholars, art historians, poets, writers, painters or more simply for mankind as a whole.
Today, although in fragments, the balanced beauty of Leonardo’s colours, the emotional intensity of his characters, the subtlety of each of the apostles’ features and the calm and remote stillness of Christ’s central figure can be again appreciated. Divine but so truly human in his reaction to the one, amongst the beloved, who will betray, is just one of the reasons why the painting still triggers to our innermost feelings and envisages as a mirror reflection our own turmoil and sense of bewilderment.
Therefore no matter what our beliefs or knowledge of religious matters are, no work of art has ever been more mesmerizing and inspiring than Leonardo’s Last Supper.