Renaissance Nun’s ‘Last Supper’ Painting Makes Public Debut After 450 Years in Hiding

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The original of the painting pictured above is 6 1/2 feet high by 24 feet wide. At the OP, you may need to widen your browser as far as it will go to see the painting edge-to-edge.


Around 1568, Florentine nun Plautilla Nelli—a self-taught painter who ran an all-woman artists’ workshop out of her convent—embarked on her most ambitious project yet: a monumental Last Supper scene featuring life-size depictions of Jesus and the 12 Apostles.

As Alexandra Korey writes for the Florentine, Nelli’s roughly 21- by 6-and-a-half foot canvas is remarkable for its challenging composition, adept treatment of anatomy at a time when women were banned from studying the scientific field, and chosen subject. During the Renaissance, the majority of individuals who painted the biblical scene were male artists at the pinnacle of their careers.

. . . .

Despite boasting such a singular display of skill, the panel has long been overlooked. According to Visible: Plautilla Nelli and Her Last Supper Restored, a monograph edited by AWA Director Linda Falcone, Last Supper hung in the refectory (or dining hall) of the artist’s own convent, Santa Caterina, until the house of worship’s dissolution during the Napoleonic suppression of the early 19th century. The Florentine monastery of Santa Maria Novella acquired the painting in 1817, housing it in the refectory before moving it to a new location around 1865. In 1911, scholar Giovanna Pierattini reported, the portable panel was “removed from its stretcher, rolled up and moved to a warehouse, where it remained neglected for almost three decades.”

Plautilla’s Last Supper remained in storage until 1939, when it underwent significant restoration. Returned to the refectory, the painting sustained slight damage during the momentous flooding of Florence in 1966 but escaped largely unscathed. Upon the refectory’s reclassification as the Santa Maria Novella Museum in 1982, the work was transferred to the friars’ private rooms, where it was kept until scholars intervened in the 1990s.

. . . .

According to a press release, AWA (Advancing Women Artists) raised funds for the project through crowdfunding and a donation-based “Adopt an Apostle” program. The Florentine nonprofit’s all-woman team of curators, restorers and scientists then began the arduous process of restoration, performing tasks including removing a thick layer of yellow varnish, treating flaking paint and conducting an analysis of the pigments’ chemical composition.

“We restored the canvas and, while doing so, rediscovered Nelli’s story and her personality,” lead conservator Rossella Lari says. “She had powerful brushstrokes and loaded her brushes with paint.”

Link to the rest at

PG notes that the OP includes much-larger photo of the painting plus a photo of the painting before it was restored, which has given him more respect for the artistic talent and skill of those who restore great art.

Over the last decade, AWA has restored over 50 works by women artists from the Renaissance to the twentieth century.

Here’s a link to Advancing Women Artists, the restorers, and here’s a link to a page showing the other female Florentine artists, both ancient and modern, or works of female artists that are found in the museums of Florence, for whom AWA has or is providing restoration work.

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