Tuesday, July 29, 2014

MWA XXVI: Leonardo's Supper

Despite everything that has been happening in my life these days, I didn't want to forgo the Monthly Work of Art, in part because it seemed rather appropriate to share as this month's subject an Italian Renaissance masterpiece that was arguably my father's favorite work of art: Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper (Il Cenacolo). Because Leonardo experimented with different media in the fresh plaster when he painted this work from about 1494 to 1498, it has suffered and degraded over time. Continuous restorations have attempted to preserve it as much as possible, so it hasn't always been available for public viewing. I saw it once with my father and Zia Marisa, and I remember more the experience of how the spotlight shines briefly then dims, so as not to expose the work to light for too long. It is beautiful in a subdued, peaceful way. It is a testament to Renaissance geometric and spatial practices in art, to create a more humanistic approach to the human form and to fool the eye into thinking a flat wall is a three-dimensional space. (So much has been written about this painting, I won't even bother commenting further. Readers are invited to post comments about their favorite texts that discuss this work though.)

When I think about why my father loved this work of art, I suspect it had less to do with all of that, however, and more to do with the fact that it is located in Milan, his hometown, at Santa Maria delle Grazie. With so many famous Renaissance and Baroque masterworks found in cities like Florence, Venice, and Rome, the placement of one of the greatest of these in Milan is rather unique. For my father I'm sure his love of this work of art was about civic pride, a constant reminder of the beauty of life, particularly during the dark days of World War II when his family struggled to find food and avoid bombings throughout the city. I choose Leonardo's Last Supper for this MWA, as a tribute to my father and to his Milanese cultural heritage.

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