The Last Supper was painted by Leonardo da Vinci in a rather short period of about three years i.e., from 1495 to 1498 AD. A span of three years is considered to be short, because the painting was a masterpiece from the point of view of human expression. It was considered to be a very short time even by da Vinci himself, because he had a habit of procrastinating his work. The painting today is preserved in the dining hall of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in the city of Milan, Italy.
What Does the Painting Depict
The reason that the painting is a masterpiece is that da Vinci took a snapshot of history itself. The imagination that has been deployed by him is also astounding. This famous painting depicts the scene of the Last Supper, where Jesus Christ announces his prediction, that one of his close followers (the twelve apostles), was going to betray him. The expressions of all the characters in the painting are captured by Leonardo da Vinci in just a fraction of a second after Jesus announces his prediction. The expressions and emotions that appear on the faces of the apostles in just a fraction of a second show surprise, outrage, shock and even fright.
It was a convention among the painters of the Renaissance, to isolate Judas from rest of the apostles and Jesus. The Last Supper painting contained a fantastic piece of da Vinci's imagination. Judas is blended into the group of apostles. His expressions painted by da Vinci are so intricate and accurate, that a person who does not know anything about The Last Supper and the betrayal, often wonders who among the apostles was the betrayer.
However, as an artist, Leonardo has not made the whole scene crude. The emotions on face of Judas Iscariot are very complex and different from rest of the group. If observed carefully, the painting 'shouts aloud' to us that Judas Iscariot is the betrayer. Thus, the real magic of the painting is the expression of the apostles, especially that of Judas that tends to blend with the group and still remains outstanding.
Leonardo also left another clue about the betrayer in his painting. Jesus Christ predicted that the first person to share the bread with him would be the betrayer. The attention of the characters is diverted elsewhere, but Judas and Jesus Christ are shown with hands outstretched on the table trying to reach the same piece of bread.
The Painting and its Restoration
Leonardo da Vinci wanted to make the painting as detailed as possible, as he wanted to depict human expression and emotion on the faces of the characters. This masterpiece is painted on a layer of dry plaster. He chose to paint it on dry plaster, because he needed more time to paint accurate expressions, which was impossible on wet plaster, as he would get a very short span of time. The Last Supper cannot be considered as a fresco in the real sense of the term, as a typical fresco of the Renaissance period refers to a painting done on wet plaster.
The Last Supper, painted on dry plaster is actually Leonardo da Vinci's experimental technique of painting. However, his technique is considered to be a failure, as it has not withstood the test of time. Before starting the painting, da Vinci coated the wall with a layer of resin, which is a combination of pitch and mastic. He also used chalk in the process of coating. To seal off the painting he used tempra. This allowed da Vinci to highlight the details of human emotion in the painting.
The painting had started to deteriorate during the lifetime of Leonardo da Vinci. Famed historian Giorgio Vasari, who is well-known for his work related to the art in Renaissance in 1556, declared that the painting had deteriorated beyond repair.
The first attempt to restore the painting was made in the year 1726. Michelangelo Bellotti painted over the damaged sections and patched them up over with varnish for preservation. About 44 years later, its second restoration was taken up by Giuseppe Mazza, a Bolognese sculptor. However, due to public opposition, Giuseppe Mazza could not finish his work.
The last and the most successful restoration of the Last Supper painting took place from 1978 to 1999. The dining room of the convent was sealed off and the temperature conditions inside the room were controlled for the purpose of restoration work.
The life of the Last Supper painting has been considerably extended due to the latest restorations. The analysis of this painting by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code has created a stir about the identity of Leonardo da Vinci, and also about his works as an artist. Even today, this painting remains to be a masterpiece, and a one-of-a-kind piece of art. Sadly, mankind may not be able to hoard this treasure for a long time.