Posted: 2009-10-11

Renaissance Milan

The famous painting “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci is located in Milan.  If you ever want to see it, you will have to make a trip to Milan, because it will never go on exhibit at a museum near you.  Why?  Because it is painted on a wall, that’s why. 

Da Vinci was commissioned to paint this mural in the dining room of a local convent in the 1490s.  At the time, fresco wall paintings were usually done with watercolors, but da Vinci decided to experiement with oil paints.  The oil paints did not hold up, especially with all of the humidity coming from the convent’s kitchen on the other side of the wall.  Within 20 years, the painting was badly damaged.  After Napoleon invaded Milan, his troops used this wall as target practice.  The building was bombed in 1943, but this wall was left standing. 

The last restoration happened 1978 - 1999.  Since that time, visits are strictly regulated.  To control the humidity level, a group of 25 people is allowed inside the room for 15 minutes at a time.  As a result, you have to make a reservation, sometimes days or weeks in advance.  We were lucky to get a time slot because of a cancellation.  Otherwise, tickets were sold out until November.  We weren’t allowed to take photos of the painting, but you know what it looks like.  (The one thing that surprised me was how huge it was.) 

Chad and I also visited the adjacent church, Santa Maria delle Grazie.  The dome and cloisters were done by the Renaissance architect Bramante.  As an architect, I have to say that the dome was pretty awesome, especially standing underneath it and looking up.

The entrance to the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie - the entrance to The Last Supper museum is in the yellow building to the left - yes, it was raining when I took this photo

A view of Bramante’s dome from the cloister

The Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnica has a slew of exhibits covering transportation, communication, energy and materials.  There are also a number of hands-on labs throughout where kids can do experiments and learn about various aspects of science.  What drew us to the museum was the Art and Science area which includes a section on Leonardo da Vinci.  Drawings of his inventions are paired up with 3-dimensional scale models so you can visualize what he had designed.

Chad looking at the da Vinci drawings and models

The da Vinci lab where kids can play with the models

The train pavilion includes old engines and train cars

The ship and plane building is built around this huge 2-masted ship

This antique bicycle was part of an exhibit entitled “Remember When”

Foucault’s pendulum was invented by Foucault in 1852 to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth - the weight suspended on a wire swings back and forth while the disk on the floor rotates with the Earth beneath it

-Julia Abbott


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