163. Leonardo

Today was Leonardo da Vinci’s day.

And not just because we ended the day in Florence, near his birthplace of Vinci, hence his name. Today was Leonardo’s day because we finally scored tickets to see “The Last Supper,” after two decades of trying.

The house in Milan where Leonardo lived while painting The Last Supper.

Access to the painting is limited to a very small numbers of visitors, who are allowed in the room for only a few minutes. Tickets are released about a month in advance, and then snapped up. It’s not exactly like getting Springsteen tickets, but not far off either.

I am the last one to offer commentary on the artistic aspects of the work. But I can say that, despite its familiarity, seeing it for real gave me goosebumps.

There have been extensive restoration efforts on Leonardo’s masterpiece over the years, to ameliorate the effects of five-plus centuries of aging, and extensive bombing in World War II, leaving it exposed to the elements.

Photos of the building that housed the painting, after bombing in World War II

But most jarring is what was done to one of the greatest masterpieces of Western art by deliberate human choice, made by those who one would expect to be the most reverent.

The painting was commissioned for the dining room for the friars of the Basilica of Santa Maria delle Grazie. For their convenience, they cut a door right into it, to give them better access to the kitchen. Clearly, what they saw every day just didn’t feel so special to them. No matter that in so doing, they chopped off Jesus’s feet.

It survived the bombing intact, but not the friars

It makes one wonder how many of the minor masterpieces in our own world do we blithely destroy to make room for our highways, malls, airports, and other conveniences of modern life. As Joni sings, “They paved paradise, and they put up a parking lot.”

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