|Leonardo Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" (circa
1495-1498) is not only a key work of the Italian master, it is also said to be,
as representative of the Renaissance's classical art style, one of Western art's
greatest masterpieces. Nevertheless, the fate of this mural has been one of extreme
pathos. Up until the 1970s, the wall surface had become so obscured that it was
difficult even to appreciate the artistic value of the painting. There were even
restorative touches here and there that were unworthy of Leonardo's genius.
There were many reasons for this damage: the fact that Leonardo had painted with
tempera (a mixture of flaxseed oil and egg in pigment), a medium not suited for
the masonry wall; the fact that the wall on which the work had been painted was
located in a church refectory, and had continuously absorbed moisture and humidity;
the fact that major structural damage had occurred to the building due to Allied
bombing in 1943; and so on. Furthermore, the painting had undergone numerous over-paintings
and additions from the 18th century on.
In 1977, the Milan Commission of Artistic and Historical Heritage requested the
woman restoration professional, Pinin Brambilla Barcilon, to restore the painting.
On the basis of a detailed scientific analysis, painstakingly careful restoration
work began, consisting of the removal of dust, overlying brushwork, and other
materials that had accumulated on the wall. This restoration work then continued
for 20 years.
As the result of the removal of dirt and added brushwork, we now have the ability
to encounter the original masterpiece as painted by Leonardo. As a result, today
we can enjoy a direct experience and heartfelt confirmation of just why this painting,
immediately after it had been originally painted, was already being hailed as
a perennial masterpiece. Recently, the Otsuka Art Museum has displayed, side-by-side,
re-creations of the painting before restoration and of the painting after restoration.
Through modern scientific restoration, we can clearly see the renaissance that
Leonardo achieved, and it also gives us a vivid knowledge and understanding of
the value of the original "Last Supper."
Text: Midori Wakakuwa, Professor Emeritus, Chiba University