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Anomalies o errors
Father Alce was right. Only three years after Leonardo had finished painting the Cenacolo floodwaters reached the north wall of the refectory, seriously damaging the mural… By the end of the XVIth century, commentators who admired this Da Vinci work were already warning of its ruinous state. Moreover, practically from the time of its “unveiling,” the work was frequently copied by other artists, as much from the worry that it might be lost forever as from their admiration for the artistic power of the Tuscan genius.In the XVIIIth century it was twice repainted. And between 1612 and 1977, there were no lack of attempts to restore the “Last Supper” to its “ancient splendor” (sic), by adding to it, erasing from it, or substituting one thing for another along the way. “Of all the restorations,” Father Alce warned me, “you have to realize that only this latest one actually applied what could be called scientific criteria and thus recuperated elements that had been lost until then.
The news enigmas of the Cenacolo
When in 1977 the most recent restoration of the “Last Supper” was undertaken, the experts discovered the damage to the wall produced by the World War II bombings. That summer of 1943 was the only time in more than four-hundred years that the painting had been exposed to the elements, and this tragedy exacted its price. The labors to correct the resulting damage took two decades, affording Dr. Pinin Brambilla Barcilon the time to effect an exceptional restoration: not only did she clean the entire wall of the Cenacolo, but she actually rediscovered areas of the painting darkened over by the centuries of neglect.Suddenly, in 1997, a “new,” “Last Supper” was presented to the world, revealing details that had passed unnoticed not only by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince —who published their Revelation of the Templarsthat same year—but by Dan Brown as well. These particularities, never previously taken into account by the experts, revealed a Cenacolo still more mysterious than previously imagined….
The first anomaly that strikes the viewer concerns the “improperly placed” hand of Peter. The restoration by Dr. Brambilla solved the mystery emphasized in Picknett and Prince’s work by lightening the relevant area of shadow and revealing that, contrary to their suppositions, the hand with the knife did not belong to a 14th apostle, but unquestionably to Saint Peter.
The drawings of that arm, penned by Leonardo and preserved at Windsor Castle, demonstrate as much. As do also the oldest copies of the “Last Supper”: that of Tommaso Aleni in 1508, preserved in Cremona; and that of Antonio da Gessate in 1506, which also survived the bombings of Milan in 1943. So then, what did Leonardo want to depict with this scene? Why is Peter hiding a dagger behind his back, while leaning threateningly on John’s neck? What is the profound meaning of this scene? It is probable that Leonardo overcame the censure of the Dominicans by arguing that the dagger anticipates the fury that Peter will feel on the Mount of Olives, at the arrest of Christ following their supper. Nevertheless, from a theological perspective that argument would come across as rather weak. Leonardo, who was suspected in his own time of heresy, who “came to hold,” according to what Giorgio Vassari wrote in 1550, “some ideas that were not held by any religion, since he placed philosophical being in higher regard than Christian being,” may well have wanted to reflect something else. Specifically, the battle that in his own day was being waged between the followers of Peter (the material Church, of Rome) and those of John the Baptist (the spiritual Church, free, which had for centuries been preaching heresies like Catharism).