American fundraising efforts to save Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper.
Leonardo da Vinci’s late 15th-century fresco Last Supper covers the end wall of the dining hall of the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. Leonardo had used an unconventional technique in painting the mural. Rather than mixing pigment with plaster—which required the artist to work quickly before the plaster dried—Leonardo mixed pigment with oil to extend the drying span of the paint. The result is one of the most influential and revolutionary artworks in Western art history; instead of the traditional depiction of Jesus breaking bread, Leonardo depicts the sensational scene of the revelation of his betrayer, Judas. The full range of human emotions—disbelief, anger, fear—are represented by each of the disciples.
However, because the painting was more akin to tempura on stone instead of a long-lasting fresco, the mural began to deteriorate soon after its completion. Giorgio Vasari, who visited the mural only 12 years after its completion, notes in The Lives of Artists that the painting was already visibly corroding. Today, merely 20% of the original painting remains visible.
Professor Jean-Pierre Isbouts and Dr. Christopher Brown reveal in a new TV documentary, “The Search for The Last Supper,” the discovery of one of two copies of the Last Supper. One is preserved at The National Gallery, London, and the other has been located in a remote convent in Antwerp, Belgium. These copies were executed by Leonardo’s disciples using original cartoons, supervised and perhaps even retouched by the artist himself. They are the closest representations of the what the original painting was intended to look like, and the key to restoring the original mural at the monastery in Milan.
The film exposes evidence of the reproductions’ authenticity. Prof. Jean-Pierre Isbouts examines correspondence with King Louis XII of France that reveals that the King had coveted the mural, and had commissioned Leonardo to paint him a replica. The copy was duly delivered to the Château de Gaillon near Paris in 1509, and after the death of the King and his prime minister, the painting was sold to the Abbot of the newly formed Abbey of Tongerlo. X-ray tests of the painting reveal that the figures of John and Christ had been painted directly onto the canvas, astounding support that Leonardo may have painted these characters himself. With the reference of the two copies, the original Last Supper may be restored for future generations to experience.
Such discoveries have inspired the launch of a U.S. fundraising effort in partnership with The King Baudouin Foundation United States, to raise the estimated cost of 500,000 Euros to restore the original painting. To kick-off the fundraising effort, the film was premiered at The Sheen Center for Thought and Culture in NYC on March 14. The film is scheduled to air on U.S. public television stations across America beginning this Spring.