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Notes on Leonardo da Vinci

(Image - Leonardo da Vinci self portrait)
Leonardo da Vinci was born on April 15th 1452 from the somewhat irregular relationship between Caterina, a peasant, and Ser Piero, a successful notary, After spending his childhood in a small village near Vinci, hence his name da Vinci,  in his early teens Ser Piero sent him to Florence as an apprentice in the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio. In a few years time, Leonardo overshadowed his master and at the age of 20 he  enrolled in the Guild of St. Luke.became as an independent artist.
In 1482, when he turned 30, endorsed by Lorenzo de’ Medici, he moved to Milano to put his many skills at the service of Ludovico Maria Sforza, known as il Moro, the ruler and future Duke of the Milanese State. 
Employed maybe at first as a musician he soon applied himself to military engineering projects - largely appreciated in a State that thrived on the production of weapons and armoury - pageants, architecture, and last but not least to painting. In just a few years time, thanks to his versatile nature and proficiency in many diverse fields, Leonardo became the most important artist at the Milanese court. 

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.

Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper

(Image - View of Leonardo's Last Supper)

The commemoration of Jesus’s farewell meal with his twelve disciples, known as The Last Supper, or Cenacolo,   is amongst the most widely represented subjects in the history of Christian Art closely related to the institution of the sacrament of the Eucharist, re-enacted every time a Holy Mass is celebrated.

But 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.

The Last Supper execution at St. Maria delle Grazie took a few years because of Leonardo’s erratic methods. Painted on a wall with a medium based on egg and oil that unlike the fresco technique proved its frailty almost from the start, the Last Supper was hailed as a masterpiece since it’s appearance and held in the greatest veneration not only by the local artistic milleu but by artists and erudites from all over Europe.

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

The Church of St. Maria delle Grazie

 (Image - Interior view of St. Maria delle Grazie)

The Church of St. Maria delle Grazie was built on the north western border of Milan for the Dominican Orthodox order. The land was generously endowed by Gaspare Vimercati,  a nobleman connected to the ruling dynasty, a military commander himself like Duke Francesco Sforza.

Planned in plain Lombard Gothic style by architect Guiniforte Solari, the church was built starting from 1466 and completed within a couple of decades. Towards the end of the 1490’s following the replacement of Guiniforte Solari by Donato Bramante, an outsider architect who came from Urbino, in the Marches, the Church underwent expensive and extensive reconstruction works to meet the requirements of Ludovico Sforza, now Duke of the Milanese State.

Part of the extant church was demolished and a true gem of Renaissance Art replaced the transept. A new concept of space and light was introduced and the overwhelming decorations of the Gothic style cruxific form Church gave way to a building, the Tribune, allusive of celestial harmony and charged with esoteric symbolism.

Completed in 1497 to allow, the burial of Ludovico’s young spouse, Beatrice d’Este, who died prematurely in childbirth on the 2nd of January of the same year, Bramante’s Tribune was completed with a beautiful choir in inlaid wood that provided a warm embrace to the marble tombstone carved by Cristoforo Solari that featured the ducal couple lying together in death.

Partly damage during the Word War II bombardments although not as severely as the Refectory that houses Leonardo's  Last Supper, the Church was restored in the late 1940’s and more recently in the 1990’s.

The Church of San Maurizio

The Church of San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore is an extraordinary example of Renaissance harmony and beauty. Located on Corso Magenta, an ancient Roman artery connecting Milan to the north western borders of the Roman Western Empire.
The earlier church was presumably built in the late IX century, during the Carolingian era, and subsequently reconstructed in various phases. Today’s building dates back to the 1500’s and involved a significant reworking of the original structure and the intervention of artists and craftsmen of the highest calibre. Lombardy artists and followers of Leonardo da Vinci, namely his best pupil, Bernardino Luini, turned this church into a real jewel box, bedecked in gold and blue and lively colours.
The simplicity of the Church’s façade might put off a distracted visitor who may easily walk past the entrance attracted more by the pretty shops selling antiques, prints or expensive clothing.  But right next to Milan’s Archaeological Museum a few steps lead up to the church’s interior that comes as a shock if you are unprepared to catch in one single glance a kaleidoscope of colours and of lively characters
Although the first feeling is that the rectangular shaped church is very tiny after a careful look you realise that great part of it is hidden behind a tall screen wall, a sort of Byzantine iconostasis of holy images you will revel in front of mesmerized by their beauty.
Alessandro Bentivoglio and his spouse Ippolita Sforza, sumptuously clad in their richly embroidered garments, welcome you to this precious former convent church they so generously funded. Let your guide unravel the story of their lives, reveal the courtly grandeur they enjoyed, disclose the tragic secrets and the inner turmoil witnessed by these beautiful frescoed walls.

The Basilica of San Satiro

The Basilica of Santa Maria presso San Satiro, commonly denominated just San Satiro, is a beautiful and tiny church, just off via Torino, a few blocks away from Milan’s grandiose Cathedral.
The earlier Basilica owes its name to a Middle Age chapel built in the 9th century and dedicated to Satyrus, the brother of Milan’s patron saint Ambrose.
In the 13th century,  a votive image painted on the external wall of the chapel, next to the graveyard’s gate, following a sacrilegious act, started bleeding and from that moment onwards San Satiro attracted thousands of pilgrims.
Therefore, in the late 15th century, at the time of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, a larger basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary was erected and the project was entrusted to Donato Bramante from Urbino.
Today’s church is completely surrounded by privately owned buildings and only the chapel of S. Satiro and the ancient belfry can be viewed from the sidewalk.
If the façade may look quite nondescript, the interior is a summary of balance and beauty, adorned as it is by classical motifs that blend together in perfect harmony inputs from Lombard artists as well as innovative ideas from Central Italian masters.
But what indeed is considered as the most amazing feature of the church is the apse trompe l’oeil decoration. To compensate for the lack of space caused by the thick grid of pre-existing roads and alleys, Bramante conceived an illusionary perspective that the most careful scrutiny would fail to classify as unreal.

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