Milan , Lombardy , ItalyCompleted for the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in 1498, Leonardo da Vinci’s IL Cenacolo (The Last Super) still captivates viewers with its power, depth, and humanity. Leonardo searched for years among the city’s criminals for Judas’s face, and the result, 16th century art historian Giorgio Vasari declared, was “the very embodiment of treachery and inhumanity.” Study the 28-foot-long mural and you begin to notice Leonardo’s many other masterful touches; the apostles, arranged in groups of three (a sign of the Holy Trinity), are clearly distressed, whereas Christ is calm, almost beatific; Judas is cast in shadows.
Much to our loss, Leonardo did not use the typical fresco technique of applying oil paint to wet plaster to create a bond; instead he experimented by mixing his paints with tempera (egg yolk and vinegar) and working on dry plaster. The painting began to deteriorate almost immediately-even so, and despite some clumsy restorations over the centuries (with a successful 21-year restoration completed in 1999), exposure to the elements, and the figures for target practice, one of the world’s most famous paintings still evokes all the drama of this fateful moment.
The last Supper was one of many projects Leonardo undertook during the 17 years he spent in Milan under the patronage of Duke Ludivico “ll Moro” Sforza. He engineered canals and dikes in the plains surrounding the city (some are still in use today), designed a dome for the Duomo (never undertaken), and painted a lovely fresco that transforms one of the duke’s royal apartments in CastelloSforzesco into an arbor. The Rondanini Pieta, the last work of Michelangelo (at age 90), is also here.
Another work attributed to Leonardo, a Portrait of a Musician (believed by some scholars to be a self-portrait),is in the PinacotecaAmbrosiana. His Codex Atlanticus, a 1,100-page notebook of writings and drawings on subjects is ranging from weaponry to flight, is on display in the adjacent BibliotecaAmbriosana; sections of the book are rotated every 3 months until 2015. Many of these designs see the light of day at the Museo Nazionaledella Scienza e Tecnica (National Museum of Science and Technology), where replicas of Leonardo’s airplanes, helicopters, submarines, and other machines show off the imagination of one of the greatest geniuses of all ages.