transitions and multiple layers of transparent glazes . He then proceeded to paint entirely on the dry wall in a medium of his own devising , made of both oil and egg tempera .
From the testimony of those who beheld “ The Last Supper ” for the first time in 1498 , we know the result was breathtakingly beautiful . But it had already begun to deteriorate within Leonardo ’ s lifetime , a victim of Milan ’ s damp climate . Acids and salts seeped through the wall , darkening the colors . Paint fell off in flakes . A century after Leonardo had painted it , the mural was barely recognizable .
Even worse damage was done by inept “ restorers ,” who tried to paint over what they could see of the original , leaving a risible caricature behind . An early attempt at restoration had to be abandoned when World War II intervened . The monastery was bombed , but , miraculously , “ The Last Supper ,” protected by sandbags , survived . After the war , another team of restorers reattached flaked-off portions of paint and cleaned off centuries of overpainting , leaving a grubby but reasonably legible ruin of a mural . In the last serious attempt at restoration , done from 1978 to 1999 , the team of experts removed all the paint they believed was not applied by Leonardo , leaving large swaths of blank wall . These they filled in with watercolors , which future restorers — and there surely will be some — can easily remove .
Poor Leonardo da Vinci . If only he had learned how his
contemporaries in Venice were producing their own large pictures . They , too , were working in a damp climate . Even frescoes , which were all the rage in Florence and Rome , could not survive their legendary humidity . But they were a maritime province , where sail canvas was plentiful . The great Venetian master Titian could have advised Leonardo to work in oils on a massive , stretched canvas , which would hold his oil paints and remain flexible enough to expand and contract with time . This would have allowed Leonardo ’ s mural to be as vivid and richly colored today as the small oilon-canvas copies produced by appreciative artists when the mural was new . It could have looked as fresh today as the day it was painted .
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