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Leonardo da Vinci in Milan: "The Last Supper"

Milan, Italy

Leonardo, the Renaissance genius, created "The Last Supper," much admired for its use of perspective and emotional depth. Although the fresco is deteriorating, it remains vibrant and compelling.

Complete Video Script

500 years ago, Leonardo da Vinci contributed to the city's reputation for design and aesthetics. In fact, Leonardo’s identified with Milano more than any other Italian city. This is where he spent some of his most productive years, enjoying the generous patronage of the Sforza family.

Leonardo was the epitome of a Renaissance genius — that means he was well-rounded: he was a painter and sculptor. He was also a musician, scientist engineer, architect… you name it, he did everything. And he did it well. This statue celebrates the many ways Leonardo contributed to the city of Milan during the years he lived here.

The reliefs recall Leonardo's varied professional triumphs. Leonardo, wearing his hydro-engineer hat here, re-engineered Milan's canal system complete with locks. Until the 1920s, Milan was one of Italy's major ports, with canals connecting the city to the Po River and to the Mediterranean beyond.

And Leonardo designed the largest equestrian monument in the world, again for the Sforza family. Though the original was destroyed in 1499 by invading French troops, who used it for target practice, the giant horse was rebuilt in 1999 by the American artist Charles Dent, from Leonardo's drawings.

One of Leonardo's greatest masterpieces decorates the monks dining hall adjacent the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie.

Admission to the Last Supper is by reservation only and spots can be booked up well over a month in advance. Good guidebooks explain the process.

Because of the fragility of this much-loved Renaissance masterpiece, the humidity is carefully regulated. We're enjoying a private visit with our TV camera. but normally, groups of 25 are allowed in every 15 minutes only after dehumidifying in this waiting chamber.

Seeing the Last Supper, one of the greatest works in art history, is well worth the hassle. Leonardo portrays the last dinner Jesus had with his disciples before he was crucified.

The composition is dreamy. Leonardo captures the psychological drama as Jesus says, "One of you will betray me," and the apostles huddling in stressed-out groups of three, wonder, "Lord, is it I?" Some are scandalized. Others want more information. In this agitated atmosphere, only Judas — clutching his 30 pieces of silver — is not shocked.

Leonardo employs his understanding of perspective to give the fresco added punch. The building's lines of perspective converge right on Christ. The viewer doesn't understand the mathematics, but, sub-consciously, it's clear to anyone enjoying this masterpiece that Jesus is the powerful center of it all.

Because of Leonardo's experimental fresco technique, deterioration began within six years of its completion. The church was bombed in World War II, but — miraculously, it seemed — the wall holding The Last Supper remained standing. A recent restoration peeled away 500 years of touch-ups, leaving a faint yet vibrant masterpiece.

The room depicted in the painting seems like an architectural extension of the actual room. Leonardo even painted as if the light from the real windows hit the fresco from the side. Jesus anticipates his sacrifice — his face is sad, all-knowing, and accepting.