Milan’s greatest art treasure is also one of the most famous and notorious on earth, largely thanks to the astounding success of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” Painted for Milanese ruler Ludovico il Moro by Leonardo da Vinci between 1495 and 1497, “The Last Supper” adorns the back wall of the refectory in the Dominican convent attached to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Leonardo’s masterpiece depicts Christ revealing that one of his disciples will soon betray him; horror and disbelief are etched on every face but Jesus remains resigned. As we look at the fresco, Judas sits to the left of Jesus, leaning away from him with the bag of silver clearly visible in his right hand. Is it Mary Magdalene sitting between him and Jesus? Wherever you stand on the controversy, there is no doubt that “The Last Supper” is one of the world’s most poignant and beautiful works of art.
Due to da Vinci experimenting with his painting technique and applying tempera straight on to the walls of the refectory, his sublime fresco began to deteriorate virtually on completion. It suffered several ham-fisted restoration attempts in the 18th and 19th centuries and survived target practice by Napoleon’s troops plus a period exposed to the open air after Allied bombing in WWII. The latest clean-up of the fresco was completed in 1999, and while the colors are muted, they are thought to resemble Leonardo’s original fresco.
Unsurprisingly, “The Last Supper” is on almost every tourist’s itinerary of Milan. And with only 30 people allowed in to the Cenacolo Vinciano at a time, it is a challenge to get a ticket if you don’t book well in advance. Try the official website first (see below), at least 3 months before you are due to visit. Tickets are sold online for visits 3 months ahead. Present your e-tickets at the booking office outside the Cenacolo in Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie at least 20 minutes before your allotted time slot. And remember that the Cenacolo is not in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie itself, but in the refectory behind it, with a separate entrance of its own.