Art, War, and Tragedy

I just returned from an amazing trip to Northern Italy and Switzerland. We based ourselves in Milan, spending time in the city touring churches and museums, wandering the beautiful boulevards, getting lost in neighborhoods, and enjoying too much delicious food. Day trips were made to Venice and St. Moritz, Switzerland, and my intent was to return and write all about the things I saw and experienced in these beautiful places on our TGLT blog.


On Tuesday before we left for the airport, I visited Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” perhaps one of the most recognizable paintings in the world. “The Last Supper” mural was painted directly on the wall of the dining hall used by the monks of Santa Maria delle Grazie, and completed in 1495. For more than four centuries, it generally existed peacefully, watching over the monks as they dined, its survival threatened occasionally during “restoration efforts” or during other times of conflict, such as when Napoleon’s soldiers used the mural for target practice.


While it is breathtaking for sure, da Vinci’s fresco of Jesus and his disciples is just one of many beautiful works of art scattered everywhere in Europe. Very few of them receive the amount of attention or promotion that da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” receives. Only 10 or so da Vinci works survive today – his most famous being the “Mona Lisa.” Seeing this magnificent work of art was a highlight of my trip to Italy.



On Thursday, when I returned home, bombs starting falling in Ukraine. In an instant my thoughts shifted to worry over Ukraine losing important pieces of their own art and history – just like so many other places that lost important pieces and buildings during previous wars. While the greatest casualty of war is human life, there are many other things and places that are lost during times of conflict. It’s all tragic. Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” was almost one of those casualties in 1943, when a high-powered bomb exploded just 80 feet away from the mural, destroying most of the building. The roof of the building caved in and entire walls of the refectory where “The Last Supper” was painted directly on a wall were blown away.



As allied bombs fell on Milan, other cultural buildings and artworks were heavily damaged. Miraculously, the wall with “The Last Supper” survived, but not without some forethought and a little luck. In 1940, heavy sandbagging, wooden scaffolding and steel bracing was erected before the bombing in an effort to reinforce the north wall and protect the masterpiece. When the area was bombed, luckily no fragments hit the protective wall, potentially setting it ablaze. When the bombing was over, the structure that protected the paining was gone, subjecting the masterpiece to the outside elements of rain, heat and humidity. Officials could not even be sure that the mural had survived intact, until the bags and bracing could be removed months later when the threat of war was over.



No doubt, the areas of Ukraine that are currently being bombed house precious, irreplaceable pieces of art and artifacts. I am saddened to think how these precious things will be unnecessarily lost – similar to the things that were lost in Europe in previous wars. Today, the wear and tear to “The Last Supper” is obvious. Thanks to the efforts of people who worked to protect and save the masterpiece, it is still there, but how many others have been lost or destroyed?



Tamara Humphrey is the founder and CEO of The Good Life Travel Company. Her love and passion for travel led her to start the travel agency in order to help others experience The Good Life while on vacation. While Tamara focuses on European and African travel, she is truly a Travel Specialist because of her vast experience and training. Connect with Tamara at thumphrey@tgltravelco.com.

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