By Alessandra Cardone MILAN (Xinhua) --
In the heart of Milan, Italy’s modern and running-fast economic
capital, there is a gem local people sometimes call the “time
It is not a
reference to any high-tech invention, as one may imagine, nor to
any futuristic device. It is the Dominican Church and Convent of
Santa Maria delle Grazie, lying in a small medieval square not
far from the city center, where an ancient masterpiece has been
enshrined and preserved for more than five centuries.
On the north wall of
the convent’s refectory—protected behind a series of airtight
doors—visitors can reach “The Last Supper” by Renaissance
Maestro Leonardo Da Vinci.
This is the first
and most relevant among Italy’s 48 cultural sites enlisted by
UNESCO as World Heritage—included since 1980 -- and one of the
most famous paintings in the world.
One major goal of
the experts managing the museum is to preserve The Last Supper
from decay, considering that the painting—extremely fragile due
to the technique used by Leonardo—has started deteriorating a
few years after being finished.
“In our display case
(the refectory) -- which somebody calls a time-machine—air
pollution is virtually absent, there is no fine dust,” museum
director Chiara Rostagno told Xinhua.
“Every day, we work
in cooperation with eight universities in order to keep
preserving it, and to try to pass this masterpiece to the next
Painted between 1494
and 1498, the Last Supper marked a “new era” in the history of
Rostagno, 47, a
Conservation of Architectural Heritage and Museology professor
with the Politecnico University in Milan, explained the painting
is still in extraordinary conditions, considering its great
“This is a proof of
five centuries of efforts, because the first signs of wear and
tear were documented since 1517,” she stressed.
Unlike all of the
previous paintings on this theme, Leonardo chose to represent
the moment immediately after Jesus announces his betrayal by
Judas has yet to be
identified, however, and is depicted still sitting among the
other apostles. This is also a big iconographic novelty; no
painter had ever done that before.
Leonardo shows what
happens immediately after Jesus says “One of you will betray
me”: the painting is all about reactions of the apostles in
hearing the unsettling words.
Here is where the
universality of Leonardo da Vinci’s message would lie: “It is in
the expressive capacity of the bodies and the faces depicted,”
language is the very reason why Leonardo has been able to
‘speak’ to people of any culture and any time for more than five
The faces, the gazes
and the gestures of the hands... each detail is meant to reveal
the “movements of the soul.”
use of perspective also helps visitors to feel part of the
scene. It looks like the actual refectory of the convent would
stretch out to include the banquet food and the table in the
painting, or vice versa.
Then, there is the
experimental technique: The Last Supper is not a “fresco”
because such method would have required a very fast execution,
since the paint must be given on wet plaster. Rather, the
Renaissance artist tried a “dry” technique, similar to that used
for painting on panels, which allowed him to work very slowly.
“This is the most
innovative aspect under a technical point of view,” the director
said. “Thanks to that, Leonardo was able to achieve the best
effects of light and shade—obtaining the so-called “sfumato”
(blending colors) that will be indeed named after him—plus an
extraordinary precision in the stroke.”
An average 470,000
people come to see The Last Supper every year and, in order to
preserve it from pollution, each visitor must walk through the
series of air-filtration chambers to let fine dust behind.
Meanwhile, a massive flow of purified air is introduced in the
refectory hall every hour.
mandatory, and visits are carried out in groups of no more than
25 people. Foreigners already represent some 50 percent to 70
percent of all visitors, depending on the period of the year,
according to museum data.
Japan and South
Korea are the top countries of origin in Asia, but Chinese are
on the rise, although many of them are students and workers
already living in Italy or elsewhere in Europe.
To boost the direct
influx from China’s mainland, the director said, the museum
management has been considering cooperation agreements with
China’s top tour operators.