One of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous works, The Last Supper, was created by the artist during the latter part of the 15th century. The painting is currently housed by the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria Delle Grazie in Milan, Italy.
The current historical consensus is that the painting began in 1495 under commission by Leonardo’s patron Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. The commission was a part of the plan to renovate the church and its convent buildings. The painting depicts the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with his apostles, according to the Gospel of John. The moment that Leonardo chose to capture was the discussion that took place amongst the disciples after Jesus told them that one of them would betray him.
Unfortunately, very little of the original painting has managed to survive through to today, due to a number of reasons. The techniques used to create the painting were not designed with longevity in mind, as was common with many large Renaissance paintings. The production techniques combined with poor environmental conditions that the painting has been stored in for much of its life have greatly contributed to the degradation of the painting. There has also been intentional damage done to the painting over the years from a number of vandals. The last restoration to take place on the painting was performed in 1999 and although there are often plans for further restoration they are often subject to such criticism that rejection is common. Some of the most detailed restorations of the painting have been performed digitally, although many have pointed out that digital reproductions cannot accurately capture the “true” essence of the painting.
The Last Supper was part of a number of religious works that Leonardo created during his lifetime, and one of many religious works that were created by numerous artists during the Italian Renaissance. The painting is hung opposite another religious work, the Crucifixion, painted by fellow Renaissance artist Giovanni Donato da Montorfano, which Leonardo himself contributed to by adding the figures of the Sforza family in tempera.
The painting took a long time for Leonardo to paint, given the complexity. There is a story that when a prior from the monastery that had commissioned the piece complained to Leonardo about the delay, Leonardo threatened to use the face of any complainer as the face of Judas. This put an end to any further complaints about the delays.