First Photograph in History from Leonardo da Vinci
A few Sundays ago I finally found the way to visit the Las supper ‘s site in Santa Maria delle Grazie Church in Milan. As often happens to lazy Italians like me, we leave out the beauty we have next to home to the next day.
So I left the “Cenacolo Vinciano” on hold or 18 years of my living in Milan before deciding to book the visit. Ok, you have to book the visit in advance of a couple of weeks, but it is not a good excuse. In fact, I had to take the very first visit at 8 o’clock as most of the bookings are taken from the travel agencies for groups and schools, but It doesn’t take me too much time to get to the site o I didn’ t have to wake up too early.
I already knew about Leonardo ‘s wrong idea of using a different technique from the A fresco.
He didn’t like to work at the speed that that technique requires so he preferred to try to proceed in a very similar way he used to do on wood panels with slightly modified materials and colours.
Chronicles of the era clearly report how is work was very irregular and slow. He might be leaving everything on old for days and then work twelve hours in a row.
But why being so strange and precise?
Ancients pieces of arts are often displayed in museums ore collection far from where they originally were thought for.
In this case, fortunately, it didn’t happen. Especially in the period of world war, two allied heavily bombed Milan and was thought of detaching the masterpiece from the wall of the refectory to be taken in a safer place.
Even though the monastery was in fact hidden by a bomb and badly damaged, the panting survived thanks to the protection custom build and some good luck.
Why is this so important?
As soon as you get in that big space that comes quite clear.
On the other wall of the room, there is another painting of a Crucifixion by Giovanni Donato d Montorfano, a classic fresco of that time finished in the same year when Leonardo was starting to work on the opposite wall (1495).
This is undoubtedly a masterpiece of the time on his own but has being overwhelmed and hidden from the phantom of the Last supper.
Yes, a phantom because the masterpiece began to deteriorate almost immediately and fifty years later appeared already blurred and damaged.
So, again, why such a bad choice should be recognised as one of the most famous paintings in history? Why it has been catalogued as a bad mistake of a genius?
Leaving all the exoteric myths and the much stronger motivation about the innovation in perspective techniques Leonardo used in this work, the only way to understand is to enter in that room bearing in mind what was painting at that time. Kings, Popes and Emperors used paintings to represent scenes from the bible or to celebrate their wealth and success (as Ludovico il Moro did with the crucifixion of Montorfano.
Leonardo instead thought a very different thing. He imagined reproducing the exact moment of the last supper when Crist says that somebody at that table has betrayed him.
Not a painting but a Photograph.
And a 3D photograph.
It is quite obvious as you get in from the door and you take very few steps to put yourself in front of the painting.
The image is like a frame of a motion picture where movements are frozen in that exact frame of a second.
Leonardo couldn’t just make a plan of the painting and then quickly apply the colours. He needed a deeper study of perspective, light and chiaroscuro to reproduce correctly something that was simply unthinkable at the time, especially for such a complex situation.
He needed to reproduce in his mind the moment, the light and the atmosphere. Every movement of the towel, or of the vests of the apostles.
In a photograph, every detail counts but come for free.
He needed to find the correct situation, the faces and their expression. He went around Milan to look for the right model for every one of the apostles, that’s why often didn’t work for days.
He needed to stop check and start again to be sure that the picture he was building in his mind was transferred on the wall.
He needed to produce the very first photograph in history or at least the concept of it.