Monday, September 16, 2013

Last Day in Italy: Milan

Downtown Milan.  I noticed a lot of fashionable people. When I commented to my sister on how well dressed everyone was, she laughed as she informed me that Milan is the fashion capital of the world.  Oh.  Good to know.  To me Milan was one thing only: the home of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper.

Hello! Yesterday we got to fulfill a life long dream of mine.  I got to see Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper.  I was so excited and worried about something going wrong (you need to buy your tickets months in advance and woe to you if you arrive late-you won't be admitted) that I spent the previous night dreaming that I wouldn't be able to see it.  We'd come too late... the painting wasn't had been stolen and replaced with a painting of clowns around a table...That dream ended with the room filling with water and all of us floating away, clowns included.

  None of those horrible things happened, of course.  Santa Maria delle Grazie, the monastery that houses the Last Supper (it's painted on a wall in the refectory) was not difficult to get to.  Lisa and I had the "We're dumb tourists, please help us" routine down to perfection and many helpful Italians pointed out the cobble-stoned way.  

We did get to see it and it was worth every second I got to stay in there and look at it (exactly fifteen minutes). The only thing we didn't get to see was Jesus' feet underneath the table.  At one point in time, the monks saw fit to make a door right under the painting, thus removing any part of the painting that was in the way. 

 Our guide was very helpful.  She explained how Leonardo changed the way Renaissance painters worked and composed.  On the opposite wall is a painting by another artist who painted his work the same year as Leonardo.  It looks like a typical medieval painting:  lots of detail, hundreds of people milling around the crucified Christ, no facial expression, very ornate...

Crucifixion by Giovanni Donato

    Conversely, Leonardo picked one moment in time- right after Jesus said, One of you will betray me- and painted every disciple's reaction to those words.  Instead of an overall universal focus, there is a single focus on one event.  Every one's expression is dramatic and tells a story about that disciple.  I never noticed this before the guide told us.

(Unfortunately I have no photos of The Last Supper to show you because we weren't allowed to take photographs.  However, I daresay everyone has seen plenty of pictures of Leonardo's famous work. Here's one I downloaded.)

If you could see Jesus' feet they would be crossed. Leonardo's intention was to have him posed as though He were on the cross.

The guide began to discuss Dan Brown's book The Da Vinci Code.  

Oh, great, I thought. Do we have to discuss pop culture alongside timeless works of art?  

The guide was a young, attractive woman with a cute Italian accent (of course) and she began to tell us how, because of the book,  there is much debate about whether the man next to Jesus is John the Disciple or really Mary Magdalene.  A woman standing next to my son was nodding her approval and murmuring her agreement.  

The guide told how Leonardo kept meticulous notes of his work where he recorded every single disciple and Jesus by name.

  Then the guide said:

Every single Renaissance painting in existence that portrays young, unmarried men shows them with long hair and beardless.  Leonardo was no different than any other artist of this time period in this respect.  Therefore it is impossible that this is a portrait of a woman!

As she said this, the guide shook her hand in front of her face, her fingers pressed together.  If eyes could be on fire, hers were ablaze.  

I couldn't help speaking aloud:  

That's right!  I said.  People in front turned around to stare at me.  I smiled back.

Dan Brown may be popular in English speaking parts of the world but his "code" doesn't fly in Italy.  At least, not in Milan.  Not with a certain pretty, young tour guide.   Nor with me.

The Cathedral (El Duomo) of Milan is the sixth largest Cathedral in the world.  It is the archdiocese of Milan.  Building started in 1386 and took over six centuries to complete.  It is Gothic in style and breathtakingly beautiful in person.

The Duomo Cathedral

In the same Piazza as the Duomo

Detail of Duomo wall

Inside the Duomo.  Lisa wasn't allowed in because she was wearing a sleeveless blouse.  In order to enter any of the Cathedrals, shoulders and legs had to be covered.

A Christian blog I follow had an article lamenting the absence of modest dress in our American churches today.  I responded that in Italy, there were guards at the doors of the Cathedrals to make sure people were appropriately covered. Why?  In the words of the guards:  This is a holy place.

Someone else replied to my comment with a snarky remark about all the nude paintings in the Cathedrals.  She said she was homeschooling her sons and they were currently studying Renaissance art.  Her sons wanted to know if the parents had to make their children stare straight ahead so as not to be distracted.

For the record, while there is no shortage of nude paintings and sculptures in Italy or all of Europe, I did not see any in the Cathedrals I visited.  The only exception would be the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel.

Upon reflection, if this person was really studying Renaissance Art, "she" would know that.  Upon further reflection, I doubt my heckler was actually a homeschool mom.  Probably just a troll.  

Monastery where The Last Supper is painted on a wall.

In the middle of the monastery is a quadrant with a garden.  The room to Leonardo's painting is off to the right of these two monks.

The tour to see The Last Supper also included the Sforzesco castle of Duke Galeazzo Il Visconti, completed in 1358.  Leonardo stayed at this castle while he served Duke Ludoveco, the man who commissioned The Last Supper.
This "love bus" was stationed outside the walls of the fortress.

From the castle we rushed to catch a trolley car to the train station.  We hoped to buy cheaper tickets to our next destination:  Montreaux, Switzerland.  Note to anyone planning to tour across Europe:  The Eurorail is only cheaper if you're doing extensive traveling all over Europe, otherwise it's cheaper to buy individual tickets- especially if you're traveling inside one country.  BUT check the times.  Depending on the time of day, tickets to the same destination can be half the price they are at other times.

 After taking a trolley ride twice around downtown Milan because we missed our stop the first time, we got to the train station late and had to take the only seats available on the next train which was first class.  Bleh.

     What is funny is that on the way to Venice, we accidentally sat in the first class section and were enjoying complimentary espresso's and drinks until the conductor shooed us back to coach. 

While waiting for our trolley, I had to take a photo of this cute little girl.

Milan train station

Thus endeth eleven days in Italia.  Next?  Switzerland!


  1. What a great day it sounds like you had. I too cringe at the dan Brown connection that so many Americans seem to connect to these places and these works of art.

    Your dream was very funny and made me laugh.

    1. Brian: Glad you enjoyed the post. Milan is a city I would really like to return to.

  2. Who'd have thought a man named Ferrari would produces something decidedly ornate?

    1. Ryan: I never thought of that. I wonder if he's a descendent of the car maker.


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.