Who doesn’t recognize the famed painting of the Last Supper? It continues to captivate after more than 500 years. If not familiar with the biblical event, the Last Supper was Jesus’ final meal with His disciples before His crucifixion. During the meal, Jesus announced one of His followers betrayed Him. The painting portrays this moment.
Leonardo Da Vinci began this work in 1495. New to painting frescos, Da Vinci experimented. Instead of mixing the paint with wet plaster, he applied pigments directly to existing plaster. The results were beautiful but did not fare well. Less than twenty years after completion, the paint began to flake.
Da Vinci, known for incomplete work, quickly created a name for himself with this new masterpiece. The mural was instantly a favorite. It became the most copied painting of the next century. Everyone wanted it, and versions were also done in marble, wax, and terracotta.
As the painting began to chip, the church was not quick to preserve it. A door cut into the wall featuring the picture took out Christ’s feet, painted crucifix-style to foreshadow his death on the cross. During the Napoleonic Wars, troops housed in the church severely damaged the painting when they used it as target practice.
As preparations for World War II began, patrons tried to protect the painting by placing scaffolding and sandbags against it. This shielded it when a bomb destroyed much of the church’s roof and walls.
The Royal Academy of Arts in London and the Church of St. Ambrogio in Switzerland both hold copies of the masterpiece. Da Vinci’s assistants are credited with painting the well-preserved replicas.
Leonardo’s work displayed more aspects of Italian culture than Jewish. In this way, Da Vinci related the painting to people of his era while portraying a historical moment understood by viewers of the time.
Today’s viewers of the famous work see only about 20% of the original painting. Several attempts to restore it damaged the fragile work. In 1978 Dr. Pinin Brambilla Barcilon started a twenty-year restoration utilizing x-ray technology. Her efforts reclaimed many small details previously lost in restoration attempts.
One thing remains unchanged; Christians around the world are mesmerized by this fantastic work of art.