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Posts tagged ‘Da Vinci’

Magnificent Milano (Part 2): Da Vinci’s fading masterpiece

Despite its bustling, cosmopolitan centre, its soaring modern skyline and fashion boutiques paving the way of global style, Milan is a city with a rich historical heritage equal to any other city in Italy, and with an artistic treasure to rival the very best. Far less accessible than the Botticelli’s and the Michelangelo’s it may be, but Milan’s offering is considered by many to be one of the most significant and symbolically loaded works in all the history of art: I am of course talking about The Last Supper, by Leonardo da Vinci.

Yet this work, renowned though it is, has had a troubled past. Fated to bad fortune from the outset when Da Vinci experimented unsuccessfully with a fresco technique which started to deteriorate away from the surface of the wall within years of its completion, the fresco has fallen swift victim to both the ravages of time, and the additional disasters of war, including a near miss bombing and exposure to the elements when the buildings around the fresco found themselves in the direct path of the same air raid.


All this means that a visit to see Da Vinci’s fresco is a unique experience. First of all, getting your hands on a strictly time-controlled ticket is almost like seeking out the very same holy grail which author Dan Brown will tell you the painting is subliminally intended to represent. With ticket in hand, you and a small group of other ticket holders will then be taken through a series of air-controlled vacuum chambers, each set of doors opening successively upon another, incrementally purifying the elements to which the crumbling fresco is exposed. Finally, you enter the main refectory of Santa Maria della Grazie, where the first sight of Da Vinci’s Last Supper feels all the more surreal by virtue of the effort required to get there.

The visitor controls ultimately make the 15 minutes you get to spend with the painting a pleasurable experience, just because the numbers allowed into the refectory at any one time are small indeed. This makes for an intimate encounter with one of the world’s most recognisable images. Yet no matter how familiar the subject, little can prepare you for the impact which the full scale image will have, nor the shocking state that the fresco betrays upon closer inspection.


What we see today really is a mere shadow of what once was. The fresco appears so badly flaked that a gust of wind could shake half of it away like fallen leaves in a first gust of autumn. In places, nothing but a mere outline of what was remain. In others, the retention of more detail, such as on the folds of the tablecloth, offer a tantilising glimpse of the wealth of colour and composition that the work would have once boasted.

For me, the fresco feels like an allegorical narrative of something beyond the simple depiction of the last supper. The reactions of the protagonists feel stilted, almost mannerist in their exaggerated expression, suggesting that Da Vinci has attempted to go beyond the simple story of the last supper and is hinting at meanings beyond the surface. Yet beyond this surface there is very little to behold but a crumbling wall, as we are forced to see one of art history’s most significant masterpieces slowly deteriorate to dust. It’s why this painting should be a must-see for any art history buff, and prioritised before its condition worsens yet further.


© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2011-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Norms: The Saints Collection | The Last Supper

It’s Maundy Thursday, and all over the world Christians will be marking the 5th day in the Holy Week calendar, which is the day on which Jesus is reputed to have held his final dinner with his 12 apostles before his death by crucifixion. It was at that supper, so it is said, that he first broke bread and offered it as a representation of his body, doing likewise with wine, something which has since formed the scriptural basis of the Eucharist (also known as the Holy Communion). It was also at that dinner that Jesus predicted both his future denial (when the cock crows three times…) and his betrayal (by Judas). And it is precisely this moment of universal consternation around the table when the news of his future betrayal is unveiled that Da Vinci portrayed so famously in the most well known portrayal of the Last Supper in the world.

Da Vinci’s masterpiece may be dramatically crumbling away from the walls of the Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, but back in Norm-world, the brilliance (and some say significance) of its composition has been apt inspiration for the Norms to re-enact their own version of the Last Supper for this year’s Maundy Thursday celebrations.

The Norm Last Supper (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen, ink and gold paint on paper)

The Norm Last Supper (2014 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen, ink and gold paint on paper)

Perfectly accompanying the Norm Saints collection which has gone before it, the one arch frame of those renaissance style Norm altarpiece devotional images has been expanded to three arches through which the whole table of the Last Supper can be seen. It’s a happy coincidence that this expansion to three reflects the innumerable references to three (and therefore to the Holy Trinity) which runs through Da Vinci’s original, from the triangular shape of Jesus’ posture, to the grouping of apostles into threes: (from right to left) Bartholomew, James (Son of Alphaesus) and Andrew; Judas (who has spilt some salt – a sign of his betrayal), Peter and “John”; Thomas James (the Greater) and Philip; and Matthew, Jude and Simon.

Of course readers of the Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown will probably know why I have placed “John” in inverted commas; for rumour is rife that the suspiciously feminine features of the apostle to Jesus’ right are actually those of Mary Magdalene rather than John, and that she represents the true Holy Grail, that being the bloodline of Christ. That, says Dan Brown, is the reason why there is no other chalice on the table, and why there is a prominent “V” formed by the empty space between Jesus and this disciple (V is the symbol for sacred feminine). It’s a theory which is reflected in my Norm work with the help of an ever so feminine look to my Norm – or should she be called Normette?

Conspiracy theories asides, reflecting Da Vinci’s great work in this Norm re-enactment was a joy to create and a great addition to my sacred Norm collections of late. But there’s something even more special on its way tomorrow.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at

 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown’s new solo exhibition, When (S)pain became the Norm, will be at London’s Strand Gallery from 13 – 18 May 2014. For more details, click here

Here’s hoping: Horray for the death of Conceptual Art

I was reading an excellent article yesterday by Bryan Appleyard in the magazine Intelligent Life. There, he reports on Andy Warhol and the unsurpassed, astronomically high prices his works can achieve. The article was refreshingly honest, challenging the wider perception of Warhol as a genius of Art, questioning the integrity of the market for his work, and concluding, finally, that the world of conceptual art, which was prompted so sensationally by Warhol with his soulless soup cans and unchallenging, repetitive silk-screen printed celebrity faces, is now over. Conceptual art, that is art driven by ideas rather than sensuous, emotional engagement has, he says, had its time, its 20 year reign over the art world expired.

The article is like a fresh air in an art world which seems to me to be so inherently pretentious at the same time as being so stagnant in the putrefaction of its own closed-door confines that there is no room left for a rational spokesman standing up for the middle man, asking, challenging: is that art? Isn’t that an utter piece of rubbish? Too often we are presented with a heap of detritus/ moulding bed sheets, used condoms etc, and because it is in a gallery, we are suppose to treat it as art. It’s extremely cringeworthy when I see clearly educated people attending a gallery, speaking pretentiously between one another about the fall of the light, the emotional landscape and the artistic intention adhering to a black sack in the corner of a gallery. For all they know, it might have been abandoned there in error by the cleaners.

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