Leonardo da Vinci 1452-1519 BACK

Restoration of the Last Supper

The most recent restoration of Leonardo's Last Supper was completed in May 1999. Work on this most recent restoration began in 1979 to repair areas where paint had flaked away, and quickly expanded to uncover fragments of the original painting covered by repainting from the above "early restorations."

Pinin Brambilla Barcilon has conducted this latest restoration of Leonardo's Last Supper under the auspices of Milan's Superintendent for Artistic and Historic Heritage. She is a renowned restoration artist who made use of various new technologies to bring life back into Leonardo's masterpiece.

Brambilla's task was first and foremost to stop further deterioration. Chemical analysis suggested that the over-painting which remained, was still eating away at Leonardo's original paint, and areas that were flaking away were taking parts of Leonardo's work with it as well. So, she decided the most pressing project was to remove everything that had been added after Leonardo finished the painting in 1498.

The restoration therefore demanded accuracy at the micron level, and attention to the smallest details. Microscopic pictures were utilized to magnify most areas of the painting. Such pictures demonstrated how mold, glue, repaint, and smog collected on the painting while infrared reflectoscopy enabled restorers to see the artist's original painting under layers of paint. Small diameter coring surveys also were performed. Samples taken from the corings were analyzed in laboratories to provide information on colors and materials utilized by Da Vinci. Miniature TV cameras inserted in the boreholes also provided information on the cracks and cavities. Sonar and radar surveys were also taken to provide information about the elastic and structural characteristics of the masonry and base that the painting resides upon.

Therefore using the above technologically advanced techniques for analysis and employing the use of solvents to remove multiple layers, Pinin Brambilla faced an extremely slow and meticulous process. Often, only an area the size of a postage stamp was cleaned each day. The twenty year project has proved to be quite successful however.

Once referring to Leonardo's Last Supper as a sick patient, Brambilla has proclaimed that she and her colleagues have been able to give back a reading of the dimensions, "of the expressive and chromatic intensity that we thought was lost forever." Brambilla, besides letting the original colors come through, added some basic color to blank areas in a way that the addition cannot be confused by the viewer with the original color. In certain areas, blank spots were left and not even painted over. Most importantly, the restorer believes that the luminosity of the original painting has been regained.

Leonardo's Last Supper was reopened to the public in May 1999. The painting is now preserved by a sophisticated air filtration system, moistured monitored environment, and dust-filtering chambers. Visitors must make reservations and groups are limited to 25 people for viewing times of only 15 minutes.

Read more about the restoration HERE

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