Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Milano: while visiting Last Supper we discover Leonardo's vineyard

It was our last day in Milan. We were quite excited because we had managed to get tickets to see Leonardo's Last Supper. These tickets aren't easy to come by as we found out months ago on the morning tickets were released for sale on the Internet. When we looked there were only a few single tickets left. However, we managed to obtain them in Milan on the phone. Only a few people get in at a time so we arrived at Santa Maria dele Grazie in plenty of time. In fact we were almost an hour early.

We set off in search of a coffee bar and spotted something called Leonardo's Vineyard, which we thought was a wine tasting place. It did have a cafe but inside we could see that it was a really charming spot. This was the House of Atellani. The palace became quite famous as it was part of the circle of the Sforza court. We had just enough time to go for a tour.

After many changes of ownership over the centuries the building came into the hands of the Conti family, who in 1922 restored it. The architect did modify the appearance by knocking down some walls but he also rediscovered part of the original frescoes. The facade was completely redone and incorporated four medallions with carved portraits of the Sforzas. The original stone structure preserved fourteen lunettes frescoed with the busts of the family Sforza.

The inside stone courtyard was very well preserved and you could close your eyes and imagine the Sforzas coming to visit. Inside there were rooms with original panelling, beautiful old furniture and wallpaper. Although we didn't see upstairs the rooms we saw were lovely.

The back terrace overlooked the garden. At the back of the garden was an extensive vineyard. The year was 1499, when to the surprise of many the vineyard changed hands: Ludovico il Moro gave it to Leonardo who had just finished the Last Supper. Then came the fall of the Duke and the vineyard was confiscated. Eventually, Leonardo regained his vineyard. It measured 8,320 square meters.

It was destroyed during World War II and no trace remained. But with the help of DNA and Atellani heirs the type of grape was identified, Malvasia, and part of the vineyard was replanted in time for Expo Milano 2015. We were very lucky to have chanced on this little gem.

Now we crossed the road just in time for our visit to the Last Supper. The group for our time slot was called and we were gathered together to go through two dehumidification areas before being allowed into the old Dominican refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Leonardo created the Last Supper between 1495 and 1498 on request of Ludovico il Moro. He depicted the moment after Jesus tells his disciples that one of them will betray him. The work shows their surprise with realistic facial expressions, lively poses and subtle lighting. Although the picture has been touched up and restored many times it was lovely to see the colors and the expressions. Although the building was bombed during the war, the wall with the Last Supper, which was sandbagged remained standing.

I took a peek in the church but it was closed for a mass. The part I did see looked like a theatre in the round. Later, when we passed the entrance it was totally locked up. In the same complex we toured Leonardo's sketches from some of his notebooks. It was fascinating seeing the drawings and notes of various inventions including war machines and flying machines.

After all this touring it was time for lunch, which we enjoyed sitting outside at a small restaurant filled with Sunday lunchtime locals. I enjoyed pasta again. I have never eaten so much pasta and haven't eaten any since.

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