Art, Europe, History, Travel

Da Vinci Code

I have this theory that all travel pictures are repeated. And I think I’m finding it to be true.  

Cathedral of St. John the Divine


When we were in NYC in October, we happened by this huge church. Everything looks pretty big there, but this looked like the biggest building I had ever seen, which is saying a lot since it was situated around skyscrapers. It was just massive. So, we went in and found out that it is the fourth largest church in the world (by area). And, the fifth largest is located in Milan’s city center. The Duomo. I had no idea I was even working my way down this list. I don’t even want to know where the others are. 

The Duomo

There are lots of old churches in Milan and when we walked by one yesterday, I commented that I felt like I was living the da Vinci Code. I had forgotten that Jake bought us tickets to see the Last Supper. Which I learned later is housed in the exact church we were walking by when I said that. 


Santa Maria delle Grazie

Seeing this masterpiece was a process. You have to buy tickets three months in advance. I never knew this, but it is actually painted on the dining room wall of this old monastery. So, you have to be in Milan to see it. I guess I just thought it was a painting that could move from museum to museum. 

To see it, you have to go through two dehumidifying chambers before entering the huge dining hall. Lucky for us, while we were waiting, an English tour came through and I got to hear their guide explain the details surrounding the painting. 
The Last Supper was apparently a popular topic to paint during Leonardo’s time. However, all the paintings prior to this depicted the moment when Judas Iscariot was revealed as the traitor. They show Judas seated on the opposite side of the table from Jesus and the Apostles, which puts all emphasis on Judas. As Judas is sitting on the same side of the table as the viewers of the painting, it symbolizes that we are all sinners alike with Judas and that our sin separates us from Jesus. In these typical depictions, Jesus and the Apostles are showing no emotion, as the Apostles are considered Saints in the Catholic tradition and thus are above expressing human emotion. 

Da Vinci’s depiction was completely different and revolutionary. It shows Jesus at the center (the actual central point of the piece is Jesus’ temple, which the rest of the picture is painted in reference to). It depicts the moments before the traitor is revealed, at the peak of emotion when the disciples are shown trying to figure out who will betray Jesus. 

This was not a point of view that had been painted before, and apparently people began coming to the monastery to see it soon after it was finished. Did I mention that it took him 4 years to paint it? To think of devoting 4 years of your life to a single piece of work is a little mind boggling. Unfortunately, he didn’t use a painting technique (fresco) that was conducive to painting on plaster. He painted on dry plaster and the painting began to disintegrate soon after it was completed. Then the church was damaged due to a bombing in 1943 during World War II, which led to further destruction. Luckily, the integrity of the painting has been restored and is now closely monitored (although they estimate that the current state of the work is about 50% diminished from what it originally was).

When we went into the dehumidifying chambers, the guides covered nothing about taking pictures in the dining hall. But the moment we were inside and a lady brought out her camera, it was made known that NO pictures were to be taken. Which was extremely disappointing to me. Not because everyone needs to see the actual painting. Everyone knows what that looks like. 

I was disappointed because it is hard to explain the magnitude of it. This room is huge, with a high, arching ceiling. The Last Supper is painted on one end of the room, while a huge painting of the crucifixion is at the other end. Leonardo painted it while on scaffolding because it is so high up on the wall. The size of it really is astounding. 

So, I did what any good older sister would do. I coaxed Jake into sneaking a picture. Because we all know that I am not discreet enough to commit criminal acts. Plus, the other lady got a picture before they told her not to, so I figured it couldn’t hurt. So, here it is. 

Let it be known that Jake risked being thrown in a dungeon to take this. You can thank him later. 


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