Abirpothi

India’s only daily art newspaper

22 years in the last restoration of \’The Last Supper\’ ended on this day in history

May 28, On This Day

The last restoration?

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The mammoth task of restoring one of the most iconic painting’s in world history finished 22 years ago today, on May 28, 1999 — and interestingly, the entire effort had also taken almost the same amount of year, having started circa 1977-78. In fact, many would argue that the conservation-restoration of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ is an ongoing project that has actually spanned many centuries.

In the spring of 1999, a small team of experts, led by renowned Italian art restorer Pinin Brambilla, concluded their restoration, which involved removing five layers of paint from previous botched restorations and restoring key features and objects. The painstaking job of cleaning, dabbing and repainting the 4.5-metre-high fresco cost millions of dollars, and it was finally put back on display in Milan, Italy.

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Soon after the painting was completed in early 1498, it began to deteriorate, reportedly thanks to a poor choice of materials. Over the past 500 years, its condition has been seriously compromised by location, materials and techniques used, humidity, dust, poor restoration attempts, and most recently, the effects of crowding tourists.

While the first restoration effort took place in 1726, the last and most extensive was completed in 1999 on this day. Instead of attempting to restore the image, the last conservation effort sought to arrest further deterioration and where possible, uncover the original painting.

After this, approximately 42.5% of the surface is Leonardo’s work, 17.5% is lost, and the remaining 40% are the additions of previous restorers. Most of this repainting is found in the wall hangings and ceiling.

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Many criticised the restoration as well for scraping away the essence of the master and painting over it, they claimed. The current version may not resemble what Leonardo created five centuries ago, but honours the painting’s miraculous history.

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