Santa Maria delle Grazie with “The Last Supper”

Grazie - Last SupperLocation: Milan, Italy

Visited: August 11, 2012

Site Type: Cultural

Inscribed: 1980

Opinion and Background:

Santa Maria delle Grazie is a small church located in Milan whose call to fame comes from containing the painting known the world over as “The Last Supper.” While the inscription for making this a UNESCO World Heritage Site includes both the church and the masterpiece, it is obvious that most people have Leonardo da Vinci’s work in mind when they visit this site. When you purchase tickets to see the painting (which must be done weeks, if not months in advance to get a fair price) you have a very strict time slot when you are allowed to see it (15 minutes). Knowing this, I scouted the area the day before which happened to be a day when “The Last Supper” was closed. The whole area looked like a ghost town with virtually no tourists checking out the church itself.

The most peculiar thing about “The Last Supper” is that it is actually painted on the side of the wall of the Santa Maria delle Grazie church. I had always wondered why such a famous painting would stay in such a tiny church instead of being moved to a more famous museum like the Uffizi Gallery, or to the Cathedral of Milan at the very least, and if you wondered that too, now you know!

Credit: Wikipedia (public domain) You are not allowed to take pictures of the painting and it is HIGHLY enforced.
Credit: Wikipedia (public domain)
You are not allowed to take pictures of the painting and it is HIGHLY enforced.

The church was built over 500 years ago and almost immediately, Leonardo da Vinci was hired and he started what is now considered one of the greatest paintings of all time. Although I am not big on art and don’t really buy all of the hype that surrounds this particular painting, I understand how it was a leap forward in art and was quite excited to see it.

Now for my brutal criticism.

The Santa Maria delle Grazie Church is average at best. Scratch that – the best way to describe it is ‘underwhelming.’ Any neighborhood Catholic Church is far prettier than this one. Calling this a World Heritage Site and completely passing over the Cathedral of Milan – the most beautiful church I have ever seen – is simply a travesty.

The inside of the church.
The inside of the church.

I firmly believe that adding the church as part of the site was a cheap attempt to hide the fact that UNESCO was awarding World Heritage status to a single painting. While I don’t doubt that their heart was in the right place, attempting to preserve and recognize what is now considered by most as a masterpiece in art by possibly one of humanity’s greatest geniuses, I strongly disagree with the inclusion of this site as a World Heritage Site. What makes this worthy and not any work by Picasso, Botticelli, or even other work by Da Vinci? Why not an Asian piece of art from India or Japan? Hailing a single painting and calling it part of our World Heritage leads down a slippery road full of bias favoring Europeans, in a system which is already too Euro-centric. I am not even going to get into how subjective art is by its very nature.

There is no doubt that Italy is home to some of the most amazing UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world such as the archipelago of Venice and the amazing Greek temples in Agrigento. In all of my travels however, I do not remember being more disappointed  in a World Heritage Site than when I visited the Church and Dominican Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie with “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci as it is officially called. It is a big title for a site that has so little to offer.

Okay, some parts are quite nice, but nothing amazing.
Okay, some parts are quite nice, but nothing amazing.

Evaluation:

1) Completeness / Preservation (4/15): The painting is 500 years old, granted, but it is falling apart. The methods used by Leonardo da Vinci on this painting are known to be fundamentally flawed today as the painting is subject to water damage.

2) Extensiveness of the Site (0.5/15): You are literally lead into a small room that has the Last Supper on one side, and another (pretty cool) painting on the other. That is it. I seriously considered giving this a zero.

3) Cultural Significance (2/25): Did it affect art in Renaissance Europe, meh, kind of. Did it change the course of history… no not really.

4) Personal Impact (2.5/15): It is much bigger than I expected, which was a nice plus. I’ve seen this painting in the dining room of every catholic family since I was a child. Nonetheless, it is a single painting, and hardly the best I’ve ever seen.

5) Logistics (1/10): The only reason that this doesn’t get a zero is that it was quite easy to get to by subway. I have never felt so ripped off in a UNESCO World Heritage Site as I felt upon exiting this site. The official price stands at 15 euro for a 15 minute view, which is probably the most grossly overpriced site to visit in the world. If you wait till the last minute, many tour websites have your back at the inflated prices of 30-40 euro! Unreal!

6) Uniqueness (1/20): It is a great painting by one of the smartest humans to ever live. However, great art, in the grand scheme of things, are a dime a dozen. There really is nothing like Angkor for example, but great art can be found in a number of museums all over the world. 

Combined Score: 11/100

Is this a good score? Find out how it compares with other UNESCO World Heritage Sites in our rankings.

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Julio Moreno

Julio is a California native who has lived abroad since 2009 as an expat in South Korea and New Zealand. He is especially passionate about experiencing other cultures and visiting as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as possible.
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8 thoughts on “Santa Maria delle Grazie with “The Last Supper”

  • November 12, 2013 at 8:15 am
    Permalink

    Although I understand where you are coming from (I’ve visited a number of places where the hype isn’t well deserved) if you were an Art lover you would understand fully why The Last Supper is a masterpiece.

    Da Vinci was undoubtedly a genius, in his ability to create amazing works of art, his designs for machines that weren’t built until hundreds of years after his death, and his study into the human form.

    The uniqueness deserves a much higher score, as does the cultural significance, but I you are very much entitled to your opinion and I respect it 🙂

    Keep blogging, it’s difficult when you have a job I know.

    Reply
  • November 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm
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    Okay, Here goes.

    Completeness and Originality – 13.
    It is 500 years old, and it’d made of canvas and paint. Granted. it could use a little restoring, which is/can be funded by tourism. The same tourism that comes included when granted a World Heritage Status.

    Extensiveness of Site – 1
    Yeah, the site is small, but if you are an art lover, you want to spend more than 30 seconds glancing at the painting and leaving, it’s a masterpiece after all.

    Cultural Significance – 20
    If you speak to someone and mention that you have seen this painting, if they don’t answer with ‘oh really? that’s pretty cool’ then they’re pretty much not worth talking to. The piece has been famous for hundreds of years, the world wouldn’t be different without it, but the world of art would.

    Personal Impact – I am yet to see this great work of art, but I know a lot about it, so placing a score here would be unethical.

    Logistics – Again, I haven’t had the chance to visit yet so I cannot mention this.

    Uniqueness – 15
    Although Renaissance Art is very popular, and many of the greats created many pieces during their lifetime, there is only one ‘The Last Supper’.

    Using your analysis to fill in the gaps here, the total score is 52.5.

    To be honest, the Logistics section you have is spot on. I can’t believe they charge 15 euros for 15 minutes. I would seriously debate paying that with my wife, but eventually my heart would win and I would go see it.

    Thanks for getting back to me!

    Reply
    • November 13, 2013 at 5:01 pm
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      That is a fair enough assessment, and it is good to hear a perspective from someone who likes art more than I do. Yeah, I also wasn’t sure if I’d do it but the fact that it was a UNESCO Site made me go for it (and my mom, who was with us, is Catholic). I don’t believe it is on a canvas though, I think it is directly on the wall, which is why they can’t move it.
      Let me know what you think when you go so that maybe you can fill in the blanks. I browsed around on your blog and saw that you are also keen on visiting UNESCO sites, that’s pretty cool.

      Reply
  • September 20, 2015 at 5:53 pm
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    Just one point to make: i think the cultural significance should be increased just a little bit, in fact basically nearly every later painting named The Last Supper was either copied or had taken inspiration to Leonardo’s one: that is why it is a “world heritage site”

    Reply
    • September 20, 2015 at 6:00 pm
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      While true, the same could be said for Picasso’s first cubist work that inspired that genre or Monett ‘s first pointist painting. The first of a painting style is definitely noteworthy, but in my opinion, hardly unique. I’ll consider it though. Thanks for the suggestion.

      Reply
      • September 21, 2015 at 4:52 pm
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        That is why maybe Picasso’s and Monet’s styles will be made part of the world heritage one day, in maybe a century or later, as in the case of 500 years of art after Leonardo. Thanks for your response though.

        Reply
        • September 21, 2015 at 4:58 pm
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          That’s a fair assessment. My only concern is where does it stop? But you’re right that if one gets it, maybe those others deserve it too. Hospicio cabañas in Mexico is another example.

          Reply

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