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Art & Culture

Lombardy

Santa Maria delle Grazie and Leonardo's Last Supper, for a touch of the true Renaissance

It is one of the greatest testimonies of Renaissance art linked to the name of Leonardo da Vinci: the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in the heart of Milan.

26 September 2022

An imposing architectural work of great importance, it is inextricably linked to the Last Supper, a famous painting, and not a fresco as it is commonly called, by Leonardo, preserved inside the place where the Dominicans used to eat. 

The precious Milanese church, in perfect early Renaissance Lombard style, was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1980 and attracts tourists from all over the world. 

1. What Santa Maria delle Grazie and the Cenacolo Vinciano are and where they are located

The Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan is a basilica and shrine belonging to the Dominican Order, integrated in the parish of San Vittore al Corpo. Its perfect and fascinating architecture and the work of Leonardo that it preserves are powerful symbols of the Renaissance city.

Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper, inside the Dominican Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, depicts the moment when Jesus announces to his disciples that one of them will betray him, creating a wave of dismay from the participants at the Last Supper.

Set on the northern wall of the refectory, it is an unprecedented masterpiece that has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and seeing it with your own eyes is a thrilling experience that recounts the highest point reached by the art of the great Tuscan master.

The work underwent an extraordinary restoration that lasted 25 years, and today it is back, if not to its original splendour, at least to being usable by the public.

The Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie is located in the centre of Milan, in the Piazza of Santa Maria delle Grazie.

2. History and information on Santa Maria delle Grazie and Leonardo's Last Supper

Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie - Interior

The Santa Maria delle Grazie complex dates back to 1459, when Count Gaspare Vimercati donated a plot of land to the Dominican friars of Sant'Eustorgio. The convent, devastated by bombing in 1943, was built around three cloisters.

Ludovico il Moro assigned the church to the role of family funeral chapel after the death of his wife Beatrice d'Este in 1497. However, the beautiful tomb created for him and Beatrice was taken apart and only the lid with the statues of the dukes was later placed inside the Certosa di Pavia.

3. Why the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie and the Cenacolo of Leonardo are UNESCO World Heritage

Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie - Courtyard

The church was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in1980 because it is considered not only one of the greatest testimonies of Renaissance art, but also because it houses the exceptional work of Leonardo da Vinci, which wielded a huge influence on the entire destiny of Western painting.

 

4. What to see in the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie and the Last Supper: 2 details not to be missed

Cenacolo, Leonardo da Vinci

Visiting the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie means devoting time to Leonardo's marvellous Last Supper , but also exploring the complex from the Basilica and its famous cloisters.

The Tribuna di Santa Maria delle Grazie was designed by Bramante and was created as an aristocratic chapel inspired by Brunelleschi's Sagrestia Vecchia: it is an imposing cube at the centre of which rises the hemispherical dome surrounded by pendentives.

Unmissable is the Chiostro delle Rane, also called the Chiostro Piccolo. It dates back to the late 1400s and takes its name from the fountain in its centre adorned with four bronze statues of frogs spitting water.

Take a moment to sit on one of the benches in the square and enjoy what is in front of you. A bustle of people of all races and cultures in a magical architectural setting.