Biblical Archaeology Review 43:2, March/April 2017

Strata: Last Supper Deflooded

After 50 years, The Last Supper is back on display at the Santa Croce Basilica in Florence.

In 1966, a massive flood filled Florence with water, mud, sewage and debris. The flood wreaked havoc on many of the city’s structures and works of art, including The Last Supper by the Italian Renaissance artist Giorgio Vasari. Measuring 21 by 8 feet, The Last Supper is composed of five panels and dates to 1546. It portrays Jesus’ final Passover meal with his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion. During the flood, the painting—then displayed at the Santa Croce Basilica—was covered with water and mud for more than 12 hours.

When rescuers were finally able to reach the painting, they did their best to stabilize and preserve it, but the damage had already been done. Without the proper technology to restore the painting at that time, they packed up its panels and put them in storage. The painting waited there for 44 years until finally the Opificio delle Pietre Dure (Workshop of Semi-precious Stones), a conservation laboratory in Florence, undertook the feat of restoring it in 2010. The cracked, broken and damaged painting was slowly returned to its original state with the help of a three-year grant from the Getty Foundation as well as with the aid of Prada and the Protezione Civile (Italy’s Department of Civil Protection).

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