Da Vinci's 'Last Supper' lifts souls with reopening

Milan (AFP) –


The Milan monastery housing Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper" has reopened its doors, bringing delight and solace to locals who for once can visit the masterpiece without booking weeks ahead.

"After this terrible pandemic, it allows me to escape, it lifts my soul, and lets me feel emotions again," said Milan resident Alessandria Fabbri, 37, as she admired the world-famous mural.

Painted on the refectory wall of the Dominican monastery inside Santa Maria delle Grazie, The Last Supper attracted more than 445,000 visitors in 2019, lured to Milan for the 500th anniversary of the death of the great Renaissance painter and inventor.

That, of course, was before coronavirus struck last year, tourism ground to a halt and annual revenues of 1.2 million euros ($1.5 million) fell by 80 percent, according to the Cenavolo Vinciano Museum, which operates the site.

"There are no more queues, silence prevails -- optimal conditions to admire this extraordinary masterpiece and escape from the pandemic," said Michela Palazzo, the museum's director.

- 'It's magical' -

The work -- described by the 16th century painter and art historian Giorgio Vasari as "a beautiful and marvellous thing" -- portrays Christ's last meal with his twelve apostles, capturing the moment when he predicts Judas' upcoming betrayal.

Working between 1494 and 1498, Da Vinci eschewed the traditional technique for frescoes, in which water-based paint is quickly applied to wet plaster, which binds the colours on drying.

Instead, his experiment using oil and tempera paint on top of a dry foundation achieved a brilliant lustre, but it soon began flaking and showing signs of damp.

The Cenavolo Vinciano reopened its doors on Tuesday after being closed since November, when Italy began new restrictions to counter a second wave of the virus.

Like many other museums allowed to reopen from Mondays through Fridays, the Cenavolo Vinciano is now betting on local tourism for the immediate future.

Palazzo said she hopes to attract Milanese normally put off by crowds of international tourists -- mostly Americans, Chinese and Koreans in recent years.

"The monastery is part of their culture, their history," she said.

Now, small groups limited to 12 people take turns every 15 minutes to study what is one of Da Vinci's most recognisable works, along with the Mona Lisa, hung in the Louvre in Paris.

One visitor, Anna Oganisyan, came with her daughter, hoping to be almost alone to admire Da Vinci's work.

"It's the most beautiful work of art I've ever seen in my life," she said, after buying a ticket at the last minute -- an option unimaginable before the pandemic.

"A mixture of art and spirituality, it's magical."