Leonardo's 'Last Supper'

Price guide: Mid-range

Santa Maria delle Grazie, Piazza S. Maria delle Grazie, 2, Milan, 20123

Price guide: Mid-range

Leonardo's 'Last Supper'
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By Melissa Shales, your Milan expert

I write for AA Travel Guides, .... Read more
#2 of 20
expert-rated things to do in Milan
Expert overall rating:5.0 out of 5
Value for money:
Recommended for:
Backpackers / Students, Culture vultures, First-time travellers, Seasoned travellers, Art, History

Expert review of Leonardo's 'Last Supper'

Artistic fast food? You have just 15 minutes to have a "Last Supper" with Leonardo.

Many people come to Milan just to see one of the world’s most famous – and magnificent – paintings, 'The Last Supper' by Leonardo da Vinci. Known locally as the 'Cenacolo', the great fresco takes up the end wall of the monastery refectory next to the Church of Santa Maria della Grazie. It was commissioned by Duke Ludovico Sforza in 1494 and took the master four years, on and off, to paint.

It’s in poor condition but it is a miracle that it’s survived at all. Leonardo was a great experimenter and decided to experiment with a new painting technique to try and speed up the process of painting a fresco. Instead of sealing the paint into wet plaster in the tried and tested fashion, he sealed the wall with pitch, gesso and mastic then used tempera (egg yolk and vinegar) and oil paint for the work. It allowed him greater creative freedom: he could work faster and re-work areas he was unhappy with, but unfortunately, it did not last. By 1517, it was already beginning to peel. It has also suffered other damage when the refectory was used as an armoury and a prison. In 1821, an effort was made to remove the whole painting from the wall and in 1943, the refectory suffered, luckily, only minor bomb damage.

Various attempts have been made to restore the painting and halt the deterioration through the centuries, most of them causing more harm than good. The last and most scientific was in the 1990s. The refectory is now a sealed environment and visitors are limited to 25 every 15 minutes.

Huge amounts have been written about the structure and symbolism of the painting, whether it is an allegory for Freemasonry, whether there is a missing figure and whether St John is a woman (he isn’t). It all makes for a good yarn.

Advance booking is essential and even then, getting a ticket isn’t assured. Your best way to get one could be on an organised tour.

Price advice: 

Entrance costs eight euros and includes a booking fee. 
 cumulative ticket for the Last Supper, Pinacoteca di Brera and La Scala Museum is also available.

Expert tips: 
As you have only 15 minutes inside, take an audio-guide or do your reading before you enter so you don’t waste time with your nose buried in a book while inside.
Do allow a minute to turn around and admire the other fine but sadly neglected painting in the room, a crucifixion by Donato Montorfano (1495).
It is essential to book as far in advance as possible, though it is not possible to book further than two months ahead. Call Mon-Fri 9am-6pm or Sat 9am-2pm.

More information on Leonardo's 'Last Supper':

Price guide:
Art gallery, Religious site
Santa Maria delle Grazie, Piazza S. Maria delle Grazie, 2, Milan, 20123
02 4801 4248; Bookings no 02 8942 1146
Months open:
All year round
Opening times:
Tue–Sun 8.15am–7pm; closed Mondays plus Dec 25, Jan 1 and May 1.

Have you been to Leonardo's 'Last Supper'? Would you recommended it?