As the UNESCO comments:
The refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie forms an integral part of this architectural complex, begun in Milan in 1463 and reworked at the end of the 15th century by Bramante. On the north wall is The Last Supper, the unrivalled masterpiece painted between 1495 and 1497 by Leonardo da Vinci, whose work was to herald a new era in the history of art.
The Last Supper, which Leonardo da Vinci painted in the refectory of the Dominican convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, is undisputedly one of the world’s masterpieces of painting. Its unique value, which over the centuries has had immense influence in the field of figurative art, is inseparable from the architectural complex in which it was created.
The Last Supper is a timeless and unique artistic achievement of Outstanding Universal Value. This work has highly influenced not only the development of one iconographic theme, but also the entire development of painting. Heydenreich wrote about the “superdimension” of its painted bodies in relation to space. It is one of the first classic paintings that focuses on a precise and very short moment of time, instead of a long one. After five centuries, the Last Supper is one of most reproduced and copied paintings, and its creation in 1495-1497 is considered to have heralded a new phase in the history of art.
I guess you’ve heard about “The Last Supper” as much as how difficult it is to see it. Actually I can confirm that this rumor is true. According to my own experience, I’ve been to Milan three times and the third time I got to see it just because I was REALLY lucky. The most important tip from me is to reserve the tickets as early as possible. How early? Hmm, let me give you an example. I checked the tickets on 3rd October 2017, and on the website it says “28th September: opening reservation for NOVEMBER and DECEMBER”. Then I checked the tickets and for October, only on 10th there is one slot with available tickets out of thirty-two. For November there are 7 days with tickets available. Therefore, plan your visit at least 1.5-2 months in advance. You must be wondering why I didn’t book the tickets in advance for myself during my first two visits to Milan. Well, first of all, I didn’t believe the rumor and I took it for granted that there should be at least one ticket left for 4 days…Unfortunately it turned out to be completely the different case. There were also rumors saying that the painting was so small, or the painting was rather gloomy and you couldn’t see it at all. Well, as the person who has finally seen it, I can assure you that it’s not small and not as unclear as many people have exaggerated. As you can see from the featured image, it looks like this in real life. Here I can assure you without any doubt that all the fuss of booking it online or through the phone, all the trouble of going there is worth it the moment you see this “legendary” painting by Leonardo da Vinci.
You know, sometimes rumors can really get you because all the negative comments will waver you, make you doubt and make you think that, having to book the trip 2 months in advance and spending 10 euros are probably not worth looking at one painting for only 15 minutes. However, my defense is that this is not one random painting but “The Last Supper” by da Vinci! Haven’t you seen it and read about it in your school Art textbook? Haven’t you watched the movie “Da Vinci Code”?Haven’t you heard about the secrets and mysteries that da Vinci hided in this painting? People have been exploring and interpreting it for decades and this is likely the most admired, most mysterious, most studied and most copied painting in the world of all times! If you’ve heard about Italy, heard about Renaissance, heard about Jesus, heard about Christian, then I believe you’ve heard about Leonardo da Vinci and his “The Last Super”. (Well, the other painting that I would say is as famous as this one is probably his “Mona Lisa”, but again I can assure you it’s not as small as many people have claimed…)
I’m from China and since I’ve grown up, visiting Europe means to me visiting the big cities such as Milan, Paris, Rome, Berlin, London, Vienna as well as visiting the artworks such as Leonardo’s “The Last Supper” and “Mona Lisa”, Michelangelo’s “The David”, ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and “The Last Judgement”, Raphael’s “The School of Athens”, Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”, Monet’s “Waterlilies” and Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”. I need to warn you that “The Last Supper” is probably the most difficult to see because they limit the time and amount of people to visit it in order to protect it. I’ll tell you more about it in chapter two. Before seeing it you might hesitate whether it is necessary but after seeing it, you’ll recommend it to all your friends. At least this is how I feel now. As I mentioned before, I was really lucky because I didn’t reserve it two months in advance but I got it on site! Unimaginable isn’t it. I guess that’s because someone cancelled it or didn’t show up. Actually the whole story is I went to visit the Church and Dominican Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie and after that I wanted to buy some postcards of “The Last Supper” because I had known it’s impossible to get tickets on site. I went to the ticket office and asked, “Is the gift shop located inside the refectory? Can I visit it and buy some postcards without going through the “Last Supper” room?” She just asked, “How many people?” I was shocked and said, “Errr, 3 people?” Then she replied, “Hmm, sorry but there’s only one ticket left.” One TICKET? OMG! I was so happy and ran to my friends, telling them about the situation. Fortunately they didn’t want to fight for the only ticket (even if they did I would fight for it lol) so I successfully got the precious ticket in like 2 minutes (because I knew if I hesitated I would have lost the only ticket in no time). I can tell you, that was the first time that I was so happy for getting an admission ticket lol.
If you visit Milan very often or don’t really care about seeing “The Last Supper”, you can try your luck by asking the ticket office directly (most likely you won’t get the ticket). Nevertheless, if you really wanna see it and you don’t go to Milan frequently, my way of getting the ticket is probably too risky for you. So, in one word, like I emphasized again and again before, reserve your ticket online or book it by phone in advance. Only in this way will you feel safe and will you have a guarantee. In the next chapter I’ll give you some practical tips concerning how to book the tickets, what are the opening hours, what types of tickets they offer (full price, discounted price etc), guided tours and audioguides.
1 Practical information
1.1 Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday: 8:15 – 19:00 (last entrance 18:45)
Closed on: Mondays, 1st January, 1st May and 25th December
Please note that every visitor can only stay in a group and visit the painting for 15 minutes.
1.2 Ticket prices:
- General ticket: 10 € (not included: advance booking fee 2 €)
- Discounted ticket: 5 € (not included: advance booking fee 2 €)
- Free: 0 € (need to pay advance booking fee 2 € and can be booked online)
Discounted price applies to:
- European Union and EES (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland) citizens between 18 and 25 years old
- European Union and EES teachers with open-ended contract
Free ticket applies to:
- People under 18
- I.C.O.M. members (International Council Of Museums)
- Ministry for Arts and Cultures employees
- Secondary school students with Student Card
- European Union teachers and students teaching or attending Architectural Studies, Preservation of Artistic and Cultural Heritage, Arts Faculties and Classical Studies
- European Union teachers and students of Arts Academies
- Pupils of Istituto Centrale per il Restauro, Opificio delle Pietre Dure and Scuola per il Restauro del Mosaico
- Journalists with a valid document stating the professional job activity
- European Union disabled people accompanied by a family member or escort
Free: 0 € (with no advance booking fee and available for booking by the call center only)
Free ticket applies to:
- Student Groups from European Union private and public schools, accompanied by their teachers with admission booking and purchase of services, like guides or audio-guides. Teachers who won’t purchase these services for his school group will be required to pay a booking fee of 5 € in total.
- European Union Tourist Guides with professional licence are admitted for free, however they must book the tour by the call center.
- European Union Tourist Interpreters when requested, to support the Tourist Guide
- You can rent an audio guide by paying a surcharge of 3.5 €.
- The “Last Supper” audioguide is available in: Italian, English, French, German, Spanish, Russian, Mandarin and Japanese.
- Please keep in mind that you can’t rent an audioguide without having the admission ticket. If you already have the admission ticket to the “Last Supper” painting you must purchase the audio guide ONLY through the Call Center or directly at the box office (I suggest just rent it on site as it is quite convenient).
- The audioguide lasts around 20 minutes, which is longer than the time you are allowed to stay in the refectory. It is suggested that you should arrive ten minutes before your reserved time slot so that you can hear the 5-min introduction before entering the painting hall.
Please note that the following time slots are inclusive of guided tours (3.5 € in addition to the admission ticket):
- 9:30 & 15:30: English guided tour
- 10:00 & 16:00: Italian guided tour
1.4 How to purchase the ticket
This is the most important part and you should pay attention to ensure a successful visit. There are in general two ways to reserve your ticket before your visit and you are strongly recommended booking it around 2 months in advance. The first way is to book by phone and the second one is to book online.
1.4.1 By phone
Toll call from landlines or mobile: +39 02 92800360
Free call from Italian landlines: 800 990 084
If you wanna book the admission ticket online it’s rather easy but you will need to register a Vivaticket account. Please click here to find available dates and time slots for your visit and book your ticket directly on the official website.
1.5 How to get there
- Tram 18 to stop Corso Magenta – Santa Maria delle Grazie
- Metro MM1 to stop Conciliazione or Cadorna
- Metro MM2 to stop Cadorna
Basides all that I said above, there are still some points that you should pay attention to:
- The admission to the refectory is free on the first Sunday of each month but reservation is still compulsory.
- The access to the refectory with luggages or large bags is not allowed.
- You will be assigned into a group of maximum 30 people according to your chosen time slot and the visit lasts 15 minutes.
- For more information about schools visits or guided tours for private groups, please call the call center.
- Each person can only purchase a maximum of 5 tickets each time.
- Please collect the tickets 20 minutes before your chosen time slot by showing a copy of your purchase receipt.
After reading so much information about visiting the painting for only 15 minutes. Are you starting to wonder again whether it’s worth all the fuss or not? Well, do you wanna see the twelve apostles of Jesus? Who’s the one that betrayed Jesus and what evidence can you find in the painting? Why is the Holy Grail not on the table? Is there really an extra hand in the painting, which belongs to none of the apostles or Jesus? What do the food on the table represent or symbolize? How did da Vinci achieve this one-point perspective? Was Judas portrayed after the commissioner of the painting or the criminal as people say? Why was John (on the left of Jesus) portrayed with feminine features? Was he actually Mary Magdalene? What did Jesus say that caused the dramatic moment captured by da Vinci? Is Jude actually the self-portrait of da Vinci himself? There are so many mysteries and secrets about “The Last Supper”. Now, are you still hesitating whether or not to visit this masterpiece that has aroused and keeps prompting so much heated debate among scholars and experts? In the next chapter, you are gonna hear some assumptions or theories answering some of the questions raised above. Now let’s travel back in history and observe what happened the moment Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”
2. Explore and discover “The Last Supper”
The “Last Supper” is always considered one of the or even THE most relentlessly studied, scrutinized, satirized painting in the world. What’s so special about this painting then? What are the secrets hidden in it? Are they really the secrets that Leonardo da Vinci wanted to hide or are they just the interpretations of the scholars? Well, I guess it is for you to decide what you wanna believe and what you find suspicious.
First of all I’d like to explain to you that the painting is not in a museum or in an art gallery but in a refectory of the Santa Maria delle Grazie complex. Once your group is let in the refectory, you will have 15 minutes to look at the painting, listen to your audioguide, learn about the techniques and stories and take photos (YES! Now you CAN take photos! I remember that before it was forbidden) and after that you will have to leave. What’s the refectory made up of? Well, there are actually two paintings here, one of which is of course “The Last Supper” and the other one is the “Crucifixion” (1495) by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano. In this room you will be able to see both the beginning and the ending of the Passion of the Christ.
On the UNESCO website, it is said that this masterpiece was painted between 1495 and 1497 while on the official brochure of the convent, it is said that this masterpiece was painted between 1494 and 1498. No matter how long it took to finish the painting, da Vinci had began his preparation long before the first brush. This is a work of his deep thoughts and keen observations of people’s facial expressions (maybe even the study of psychology?). Different from the other masters who had painted this theme, focusing on the identification of the betrayer Judas, da Vinci chose to emphasize on the moment shortly after Jesus said “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me”. In the “Last Supper” da Vinci focused on the sudden, dramatic facial expressions, body poses and hand gestures unlike his other paintings such as “Mona Lisa”, “Portrait of Benci”, “Portrait of the Musician” etc. He chose to focus on the superficial reactions of the twelve apostles and Jesus which can be observed and which reflect their inner mental, psychological activities. You need to know that at that time, the subject psychology wasn’t mentioned or wasn’t even thought of by most of the people while da Vinci already began to realize the vital role that it played. This choice made his painting so innovative, so important and so outstanding in a series of paintings of the same theme.
The other thing that makes the “Last Supper” so famous is the ingenious technique that da Vinci applied. However, it is also this technique that makes the preservation of this precious artwork so difficult. As the old saying goes, even Homer nods. Here in this painting, da Vinci used his innovative “dry technique” instead of the “buon fresco” technique, which requires the painter to finish the mural painting while the plaster is still damp. The “dry technique” is quite similar to the technique used by many artists in the 15th century while painting on the panels, but on the two-layered surface of plaster, the colors can not be well absorbed. The advantage of this technique is that it gave da Vinci enough time to think and to paint the details of all the people’s reactions. It also gave da Vinci enough time to refine them and to make changes as he liked. He thought that this was the best way to achieve his characteristic chiaroscuro (an effect of contrasted light and shadow) and sfumato (the technique of allowing tones and colours to shade gradually into one another, producing softened outlines or hazy forms) without sacrificing depicting, capturing the 13 people’s detailed psychological activities. Well, I guess he achieved these goals, but the work in tempera instead of fresco on the the two-layered surface of plaster made the absorbing process really difficult and made the mural painting extremely fragile. There are documents showing that deterioration began merely a few years after the completion of the work and “it was as early as 1568 when Vasari first pointed out problems with this painting technique”. Over the decades, the quality of the painting has gone worse and worse and the latest restoration was completed in 1999, which after heavy repainting brought the current “Last Supper” in front of us. This is also the reason why now the refectory limits the amount of visitors and the length of the visits everyday.
The third thing I wanna mention about the painting concerning the painting technique side is the one-point perspective. As I read in an article “One Point Perspective Drawing: The Ultimate Guide” from the website “studentartguide.com“:
One point perspective is a drawing method that shows how things appear to get smaller as they get further away, converging towards a single ‘vanishing point’ on the horizon line. It is a way of drawing objects upon a flat piece of paper (or other drawing surface) so that they look three-dimensional and realistic.
Can you find the vanishing point in the mural painting “The Last Supper”? Yes, it’s Jesus. Do you feel that this painting is inviting you in this dramatic scene and you seem to be the witness of this historical moment? I read online that da Vinci actually used a hammer and nail and tied string to it to help guide his hand while creating the painting’s angles. I’m not sure when this technique was created but I know it’s still widely used nowadays.
Having heard so many technical aspects of the painting, are you feeling bored? Maybe it’s time for some secrets, mysteries and legends about it? Now let’s take a look at the details of this painting first.
The four detailed pictures above consist of the whole “The Last Supper” from the left side to the right and the people are (also from the life to the right) Bartholomew, James Minor, Andrew (brother of Peter), Peter, Judas, John, Jesus Christ, Thomas, James the Greater, Philip, Matthew, Jude and Simon. I guess the most popular mystery about this painting is the “27th hand”, which means that there should be in total 26 hands in the picture belonging to the 13 people but it seems there is one extra holding a knife pointing at Andrew (you can see in the 1st and 2nd pic). To be honest, including this mysterious hand, I can only see 26 hands so I guess it’s normal. As for holding a knife pointing at Andrew, I guess Peter was just twisting his wrist while talking with John and was trying to avoid hurting Judas. If you think in this way, the pose of the hand doesn’t seem that strange anymore.
The second mystery (or maybe not a mystery anymore because many people already know about it) is who was the traitor that failed Jesus. Well, if you haven’t heard about it, can you notice a bag which seems to be filled with silver coins? Who is holding it? Yes, the fifth person on the left is Judas, who betrayed and gave Jesus away to the Roman Empire for money. Was he really modeled after a real criminal or after the director of the convent at that time? There is rumor saying that da Vinci couldn’t think of how to portray Judas and he had to pause for a few days before the inspiration came. The director got impatient because he still had to pay da Vinci by day even if he’s not actually paining on the wall. After da Vinci learnt about his complaint, he realized the similarities between the director and Judas, which was they both liked money so much. Therefore he portrayed Judas using the director as the model. Well, I read somewhere online that there was witness recalling that sometimes da Vinci didn’t make one single stroke in a few days and sometimes he could progress so much in a few hours, but as for the validity of the story of the director, I keep an open mind.
The third mystery is why there is no Holy Grail in this painting. I just watched the movie “Da Vinci Code” again last night and in this movie the interpretation of the Holy Grail in the “Last Supper” is both astonishing and interesting to me. In order to explain to you where the Holy Grail is in the painting, it’s necessary to talk about the forth mystery first, which is what’s the real identity of John? Why is he portrayed with feminine features? Is he actually a she? Is she Mary Magdalene? Was Mary Magdalene actually Jesus’ wife? Too many questions are connected with these two characters in the painting and some symbols can be noticed with special attention. For example, can you notice that the bodies of John and Jesus make up a letter “M”, standing for maybe Mary Magdalene? If you move John’s body horizontally past Jesus can you see that John is actually laying his head on Jesus’ shoulder? Can you also notice the similarities of John’ and Jesus’ clothes? I read all these information online and I have to say they are rather intriguing. However, I also wanna mention that have you noticed the painting called “St. John the Baptist” in Louvre painted also by Leonardo da Vinci? Isn’t he also portrayed with many feminine features? If so, in my opinion, we can’t say that this isn’t da Vinci’s own way of portraying certain men.
Now let’s come back to the mystery of the Holy Grail. For decades there are many legends about kings, knights, soldiers fighting for it because it is believed to be the source of God’s power on earth. To be honest, I don’t believe that it has some kind of magic power but as it frequently appears on my favorite TV shows and movies, I’d really like to know more about it. In fact, when I was visiting Valencia in Spain, I saw a Holy Grail, one of the modern candidates for the Holy Grail in legend. How can such an important object be missing in the “Last Supper”? Did da Vinci forget about it? I’m not sure about other explanations but the one given in the movie “Da Vinci Code” was quite bold and imaginary…It says that John is not John the apostle but Mary Magdalene and she’s actually the wife of Jesus. The Holy Grail is not a cup or plate but Mary Magdalene and her descendants. The shape V between the bodies of Mary Magdalene and Jesus is related to some Jewish symbol, an upside-down triangle, which symbolizes the womb of a woman and so on… Well, if you want know more about this specific interpretation you should probably watch the movie because I don’t wanna spoil it, but the movie is based on a novel and a novel is a novel. I wouldn’t say it’s absolutely not true or has no supporting evidence at all, but I’d rather believe some more conventional and less fictional explanations.
The fifth mystery is the interpretations of the food on the table. Did da Vinci choose them randomly or did he choose them as symbols to convey messages? It was written in 2010 in the “ScienceDaily” that “researchers Olivier Bauer, Nancy Labonté, Jonas Saint-Martin and Sébastien Fillion of the Université de Montréal Faculty of Theology have found new meaning to the food depicted by Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous artwork.” “We asked ourselves why Da Vinci chose those particular foods, because they don’t correspond to what the Evangelists described,” says Bauer. “Why bread, fish, salt, citrus and wine? Why is the saltshaker tipped over in front of Judas? Why is the bread leavened?” If you wanna know more about it please click here to read the original article in the website “ScienceDaily”.
Other secrets of the painting include what the gesture of Thomas means? Why is he pointing at the ceiling or maybe heaven? Doesn’t it look like the gesture of St. John the Baptist in another da Vinci’s painting in Louvre? Why does it look like Peter was threatening John? Is the portrait of Jude actually the portrait of Leonardo da Vinci himself? And of course there are many more questions.
In one word, it seems this painting has been telling secrets for a really long time and people never seem to get bored of it. After all, why did da Vinci only hide these secrets in “The Last Supper” instead of writing a book telling about it? Also, why are the interpretations of da Vinci surely the fact or truth of certain historical events or even legends? It’s very likely that these interpretations are just the results of people’s imagination, creativity and curiosity. Some are real, some are false, but who knows? I guess the answers were already gone the moment da Vinci went to his grave. Nevertheless, it is exactly these unsolvable, undecidable, uncertain “secrets” that keep us curious, creative about and fascinated by this painting.
Having said so much about the “Last Supper” I’m pretty sure you are eager to see it now. However, keep in mind to book the ticket in advance!
3. The Santa Maria delle Grazie complex
Don’t forget that the painting “The Last Supper” and the refectory are just part of the convent. The church and the cloister are also really amazing and I believe they still should have been one of the most popular attractions in Milan had “The Last Supper” not been placed here. Because of “The Last Supper”, people seem to have forgotten about the church and the convent. It is indeed a pity.
The Church and Convent was built starting from 1463 onwards by Guiniforte Solari, and was considerably modified at the end of the 15th century by Bramante, one of the masters of the Renaissance.
Bramante structurally enlarged the church and added large semi-circular apses, a wonderful drum-shaped dome surrounded by columns, and a spectacular cloister and refectory.
Despite the damages that occurred during the Second World War, the complex has preserved both its original architectural structure and the internal relation between its components, including the famous fresco. The presence of Dominican Fathers and the continuity of religious use have contributed to safeguard the property’s functional integrity.
Maybe you can arrive one hour before your chosen time slot of visiting “The Last Supper” and while you’re waiting for your turn to enter the painting hall, you can spend around half an hour exploring the church and the cloister. Instead of visiting solely the refectory, this will complete your experience of visiting the whole complex. You won’t regret it.
To be honest, I have never heard about a single painting being so much emphasized in a UNESCO World Heritage site. Had there been no “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci, would the Santa Maria delle Grazie complex have been honored the inscription? As I mentioned at the beginning, there are certain things that people must see at least once in a life time. In my opinion, da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”, undoubtedly is one of them. I can assure you that in all my posts, I’ve never written so much about one single painting. More than 4000 words. Why? Becasue this masterpiece keeps evoking the curiosity and imagination of human beings. To some extent, this is the magic power that it possesses to enchant, fascinate and bewitch people all over the world.