National Geographic : 1983 Nov
the damage Mazza's scratching was doing and protested vehemently. His protests were probably what convinced the Domini can prior to halt Mazza. Perhaps the painting's low point occurred in 1796, when Napoleon's troops occupied Milan. They used the refectory as an armory and a stable. French soldiers threw stones at the Apostles and even climbed ladders to scratch out some of their eyes. That desecration was an excuse for more overpaintings and restorations, which con tinued into this century. Then, in 1943, an Allied bomb landed next to the dining hall. Miraculously the wall, which had been sandbagged as a precaution, survived. But had the bomb landed one meter closer, the painting probably would have been lost. "The bomb," says the Dominican's current prior, Father Angelo Caccin, "was more in telligent than humans." Although the dining hall has been rebuilt, one cannot enter the hall today without a sense of dismay. Modern life continues to as sault the "Last Supper." Milan's dirty air corrodes and besmudges the painting. Fluc tuations in humidity afflict the wall. Mold grows on remaining flakes of paint. As Fa ther Caccin says, "The 'Last Supper' is the most important dying thing in the world." But like physicians unwilling to let a pa tient die, we are making a last stand. Fund ed largely by the Olivetti Corporation, we are attempting a true restoration of the "Last Supper." We must accept that much of Leo nardo's masterwork is irretrievably lost. We want to salvage what is left of the original by removing the overpaintings and the dirt, even though that means that part of what we now see will be lost. "We no longer have the 'Last Supper' of Leonardo," one expert has said. "It's better to have a little bit of Leonardo than all of this 'Last Supper.'" E VEN THOUGH MUCH of the paint ing is altered, the greatness of Leonar do's concept still emanates from that special wall at Santa Maria delle Gra zie. Leonardo was a master of perspective.