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Cenacolo Vinciano or Refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie
The Refectory at Santa Maria delle Grazie is the location for one of the greatest masterpieces of Italian art: Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. The location of this work, in the Refectory, the hall in which the monks gathered to eat, is not coincidental. In fact, it should be remembered that the Refectory is very close to the church, where the monks listened to the Scriptures and took their spiritual nourishment in the form of the Eucharist.
This work, amidst the daily rituals of lunch and dinner, was a constant reminder to the monks, showing that the life of the religious community was an extension of the life of Christ and his apostles.
Here, a religious theme is intertwined with art and history. The Last Supper was commissioned from Leonardo by Ludovico Sforza, who was then Duke of Milan, as part of a plan to refurbish the monastery and church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. This project was of great importance for Ludovico Sforza, because it was in this church that the Duke planned to install his own tomb.
Thus the monastery buildings, including the church and Refectory, were to become a work of sacred art, while also fulfilling the Duke’s ambitions to heighten the prestige of his city with fine art and architecture, in the style of that period.
With the Last Supper, Leonardo created a remarkable example of perspective, a technique that had been developed in Florence, in northern Italy. This opened up the end wall of the Refectory, creating an illusion of a spacious room with a coffered ceiling.
Opposite the Last Supper, there is another very large fresco. This is the Crucifixion painted by Giovanni Donato Montorfano (1495), an artist born in Milan, who painted the fresco in the same years during which Leonardo was working on his masterpiece. The monks, while eating their meals in the presence of these two works, therefore felt themselves embraced by the mercy of God, who had sent His Son to earth for man’s salvation.
A few decades after the work had been painted, the monks opened a door in the wall in order to shorten the time necessary to reach the Refectory from the kitchens, and in doing so they destroyed part of the painting, including Christ’s feet.
Leonardo’s original concept for the fresco, as can be seen from one of his drawings, was rather different, with the Apostles spaced evenly along the table. The artist soon realized that this composition was rather artificial, providing a fragmented vision of the scene. Therefore Leonardo da Vinci decided to subdivide the twelve Apostles into four groups, each different, but all showing various reactions to the words and gestures of Christ. Each small group can be seen discussing Jesus’ words, while the overall scene converges onto His figure.
To paint the Last Supper, Leonardo also used some gold and silver. In fact, traces of gold and silver metallic foil has been found and serves as testimony to the artist’s original desire to render the figures realistic, even through the use of precious elements.
Booking is compulsory for all types of ticket. Entrance to the Last Supper is allowed only on the day and time booked.
If the visit is rendered impossible by force majeure, it can be rearranged for a later date according to availability, even beyond the validity of the ticket.
Tickets should be collected at the ticket office at the Museum, at least 20 minutes before the start of the visit. Visitors should bring their booking code. Latecomers will not be allowed to make their visit.
The complex can be reached by tram, numbers 1, 18, 19 and 24, and by red metropolitan line MM1 (stop Conciliazione) and on the green line MM2 (stop Cadorna).