Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Non-Fresco, Dan Brown Got Totally Wrong

I can think of a few works of art and a sampling of monuments that didn't quite live up to the expectations. When you have heard about a masterpiece, studied it in art history and history classes, and accumulated anticipation, sometimes you are going to be disappointed.

While Leonardo's leading lady can leave you wishing for more, his Last Supper leaves you fully amazed. I sprung for a guided tour for this visit - normally I avoid tours like the dog poop all over Europe's sidewalks. However, I did not have time to do all the research and create an audio tour for such a quick visit, so I happily shelled out the extra €3 for commentary and prayed cameras weren't allowed.

After proceeding through a series of humidity and pressure regulated rooms, we were suddenly face to face with Christ in Leonardo's masterpiece. The huge non-fresco (the guide was adamant that the Last Supper is NOT a fresco and this is the main reason it is so difficult to preserve) spanned the entire back wall, making it seem as if the room extended into the dining room of The Last Supper. The perspective and depth of the mural truly draws you into the painting and the emotion depicted on the disciples faces makes you feel as if you were there.

While the guide pointed out each of the apostles and explained their role in the story, I tried to determine if it really was John or Mary Magdalene. My thoughts were suddenly interrupted by her passionate explanation of why Dan Brown got it all wrong. She asked us that if we took nothing else from her talk to take this: John, being the youngest disciple, was historically portrayed with a feminine face to show his youth. No conspiracy, no hidden tales, just misinterpreted historical symbolism.

If the mural alone did not impress you with Leonardo's genius, you only had to turn around to compare it to a mural painted on the back wall by a contemporary of his. There was no comparison to be made. Well except that since the back mural was an actual fresco, the colors had retained their brilliance and intensity.

More pictures of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie can be found here.

1 comment:

Matt said...

The world is frankly lucky the Last Supper still exists. We learned of all that Leonardo's masterpiece has endured over the ages, including: very poor restoration work; the monks cutting Jesus's feet off to add a door in the wall where the Last Supper is displayed; the room in which it stands being used as an armory and later a prison; the church being hit by a bomb during World War II (though luckily, precautions had been taken to protect the painting as much as possible.)

So it isn't any wonder that the last (and best) restoration of the Last Supper took from 1977 until 1999!