I tre Grandi

Ingeniously wrong

I just have to say something about Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, which we watched last time. You may have noticed that it was in pretty bad shape on the picture used. This sad condition is at the same time the restored one. Perhaps you are a little comforted that the picture began to crumble shortly after its completion, so in a way it is more like the original today than an immaculately restored version would be. Unfortunately, the ingenious Leonardo himself is responsible for the fact that it has been ailing like this since the beginning of its existence.

He was not only a painter, but also (and perhaps much more) an inventor and scientist. For the almost 40 m² wall painting he experimented with oil and organic colours, which were obviously not very suitable. In addition, he used the so-called Secco technique (who likes to drink dry wine will know the term): the paint is applied to the dry plaster. Another technique is the Affresco technique (which is why murals are generally referred to as frescoes). Here, the paint is applied to the fresh (fresco) plaster and is firmly bonded to it by drying. This makes the paints much more durable than with the Secco, but the painter can only ever devote himself to the freshly plastered area, while the dry version makes it possible to interrupt at any point and continue painting at another. In terms of durability, Leonardo did his work no favours, but the Secco was more in keeping with his way of working.

There are amusing reports to read about how the great master did it: sometimes he is said to have painted like an obsessive from dawn to dusk, then again he sat in front of the painting for hours without doing anything other than staring at it. Then there were days when he would come by, three brushstrokes, and then he would go back from Dannen. Perhaps he had just received a fresh corpse on his dissection table, which he had to examine… No wonder it took him four years to finish the Lord’s Supper.

To the ceiling

I don’t want to play the two off against each other, but Michelangelo (1475-1564), the second great genius of the Italian Renaissance, painted the complete ceiling of the Sistine Chapel [see above, fresco, 520 m²] a few years later in the same period (1508-12)! And this, just like Leonardo, completely without the support of helpers. He had fired them after only a few days because they were no good in his eyes. Anyone who has ever visited the chapel knows that, in addition to amazement and awe, you can also feel your neck very quickly. Michelangelo hung for four years in a similarly uncomfortable position under the ceiling and painted and painted…. He himself added a caricature in a letter that shows how the back of his head is already attached to his neck.

Only the good

So while Michelangelo was painting alone in the chapel, only a few rooms away, in the Vatican’s stanzas the third genius of the Renaissance triad was creating one of his major works: Rafael/Rafaello Santi (1483-1520), who during his lifetime was called Il Divino, the Divine, but who is less known to us today as a name. This may be because – true to the motto “Only the good die young” – he died already at the tender age of 37. But we all know one of his works, I bet: It is the two chubby angels and putti, respectively, who lean behind a ledge, one with a supported chin, the other with crossed arms, both looking upwards, and are represented in countless decorative and Christmas card variations. The two had gone so virally that every YouTuber would turn green with envy. Yet in the painting to which they belong, they are actually only a marginal phenomenon: The Sistine Madonna (1512/13), another of Raphael’s major works.

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