Santa Maria delle Grazie

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Santa Maria delle Grazie


What draws so many visitors to Milan in the first place is the Cenacolo Vinciano, Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper. From 1495 to 1497 Leonardo painted this poignant portrayal of confusion and betrayal for the far wall of the refectory when this was a Dominican convent. Aldous Huxley called this fresco the "saddest work of art in the world," a comment in part on the deterioration that set in even before the paint had dried on the moisture-ridden walls. (It probably didn't help that the monks cooked their meals here.) The fresco got a lot of well-intentioned but poorly executed "touching up" in the 18th and 19th centuries, though a recent lengthy restoration has done away with these centuries of over-painting, as well as tried to undo the damage wrought by the clumsy patching and damage inflicted when Napoléon's troops used the wall for target practice, and from when Allied bombing during World War II tore off the room's roof, leaving the fresco exposed to the elements for 3 years.

In short, the Last Supper is a mere shadow of the work the artist intended it to be, but the work, which captures the moment when Christ told his Apostles that one of them would betray him, remains amazingly powerful and emotional nonetheless. Only 25 people are allowed to view the fresco at one time, and they must pass through a series of devices that remove pollutants from clothing. Accordingly, lines are long and tickets usually sold out days in advance. I'm serious: If you don't book ahead, you'll likely be turned away at the door, even in the dead of winter when you'd expect the place to be empty (tour bus groups swallow up inordinately large batches of tickets, leaving precious few for we poor do-it-yourself travelers).

Often overlooked are the other great treasures of the late-15th-century church itself, foremost among them the fine dome and other architectural innovations by one of the great architects of the high Renaissance, Donato Bramante (one of the first architects of St. Peter's in Rome). To one side of the apse, decorated in marble and terra cotta, is a lovely cloister.

The Duke of Milan Francesco I Sforza ordered to build a Dominican convent and a church in the place where a small chapel dedicated to St. Mary of the Graces was.

The main architect was Guiniforte Solari, the convent was completed by 1469 while the church took more time. The new duke Ludovico il Moro decided to have the church as the Sforza family burial place and rebuild the cloyster and the apse which were completed after 1490.

Ludovico's wife Beatrice was buried in the church in 1497.

The apse of the church is widely believed to be by Donato Bramante. Howevere there's no real evidence of the fact, but that Bramante lived in Milan at the time and he is once quoted in the acts of the church (a marble delivery in 1494).

The night of August 15, 1943, Anglo-American bombers hit the church and the convent. The refectory was grounded, but for some walls, including the one that holds the Last Supper.

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