I didn’t get a chance to write about dinner last night, it was late when we got in and I was in mood to stay up sitting in front of the computer. We went to a restaurant on Via Brera and chose the place where we’d had a nice chat with the owner the night before. He remembered us and was grateful that we had made good on our promise to return. We took a table inside, away from the smokers and ordered. Specific wines by the glass was a nice change after several nights of “house wine,” MLW had Sea Bass with roasted potatoes, I had veal with mushrooms. A very dinner, made better by the service and the atmosphere. The waiter wouldn’t let me leave without a grappa, after which we paid and made our way to the door. The owner, his partner and our waiter stood in a line and thanked us for our patronage, shaking our hands. What a nice touch, a genuine response when we all know it’s unlikely we’ll ever be back. On the way home I found a 5€ note on the sidewalk, and seeing that as an omen, I quickly turned it into gelato.
Francesca, our super apartment rental agent texted me yesterday that she had miraculously reserved tickets for Il Cenacolo Vinciano, Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece, more commonly known as The Last Supper. I had done a lot of research on buying them ahead of time, and the official web site said they were sold out until July. Every guide book had mentioned the same – buy them months in advance or forget about it. Or in desperation, you can always book a tour and pay 100€ more than the actual cost. Given all that, I was resigned to missing it so it was a pleasant surprise to know that we wouldn’t have to. I chose a 10:45 entry time, the latest of the three available.
We got up with the alarm, did one last load of laundry, stopped into the corner coffee shop (where we are now known as regulars) and then started the walk across town. The streets were already busy with students and tourists and people going off to their real jobs. The east side of the Duomo was just now fully illuminated by the morning light.
Crossing the square and heading up past Piazza Mercanti (the old mercantile exchange, sadly closed for renovation) we made our way back to what has become the center of our touristic universe, Via Dante.
The walk to the church was tough, narrow sidewalks, lots of traffic, sun and people walking slowly in front of us. We arrived 15 minutes before our entry time, knowing that we had to collect the tickets. I tried the first door to what ended up being the gift shop. An Italian grandma told me “no” but grabbed a postcard of the complex and pointed to the ticket office. Around the other side. She pointed us to a door, we went through and found ourselves in the middle of a morning mass. Continuing I tried the next official looking door and while that was the actual entry, they moved me along to the ticket office which was just next door. Presto, tickets at last.
We were directed to a foyer to wait for our time. People slowly filed in and when the group was about 25 in size, a guide came along and opened the first door. We shuffled into a second foyer and when the last person entered, the doors behind us closed. We repeated this process 2 more times, waiting one time for some teenagers who didn’t grasp that they needed to move, until we were all in the last air lock, just before entry to the chapel.
Leonardo worked on the painting from 1494 to 1498 using techniques that were revolutionary for the time, while unfortunate because the deterioration was observed less than 20 years after completion. From that point, the painting saw a sad history of poor restoration and downright abuse (the chapel was used as a stable by Napoleon’s cavalry.) In 1943, half the chapel was destroyed during an Allied bombing attack and the painting was then displayed in the elements for 4 years.
Once inside, you can stand and gaze or sit on small benches for a more relaxed appreciation. The painting is 29’ x 15’1” and covers the upper 1/3 of the right-side chapel wall. The condition is poor, but purportedly stable. Christ’s feet are missing (those of the disciples are present) because in 1652 the Dominican Fathers enlarged the door to the kitchen and removed them. Overall, the painting is quite ethereal, as though it’s disappearing before your eyes. While immune to the Bible story, the whole of the thing was quite moving. Da Vinci is said to have come in some days and not painted at all, rather just spending the day sitting on the scaffolding and working. That the man was a genius, is amply demonstrated here.
Precisely at 11:00 the two guards start rounding everyone up and herding them to the exit airlock. Cleverly, they added a second airlock door to a gift shop, we chose that exit and bought a few curios. From there, 30 minutes after entering the waiting foyer, you’re back out on the street.
The monastery that holds the chapel, Santa Maria delle Grazie was founded in 1462. It was expanded in 1490 under the direction of the Duke of Milan, Ludovico il Moro as his place of interment. Several noted architects including Bramante participated in the design and engineering. We spent a little time visiting it before heading out to our next stop. Modest, calming and really quite charming, it would be a nice place to take a break on a hot summer’s day.