The Italian Almanac

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The Last Supper

Italian News - August 1

Leonardo Da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper could soon remain open in the evening, in a bid to cope with its upsurge in popularity on the back of Dan Brown's blockbuster The Da Vinci Code, according to Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli. Weighing into a debate over recent days on whether to extend the masterpiece's opening hours, Rutelli promised that additional funding would be found to help meet the demand.

The masterpiece reopened to the public in 1999 following a 20-year restoration. Since then, rigid visiting conditions have been imposed to protect the 15th-century mural, which is housed in a Milanese convent. No more than 25 people are allowed in the room at any one time, with each visit lasting 15 minutes. Photos are banned and three airtight doors protect the work from dust and pollution.

For the first few years following the restoration, the 100-visitor per hour restriction was able to cope with demand. But the runaway success of Brown's The Da Vinci Code - which gives the painting a key role in the plot, suggesting the figure at Jesus's left shoulder is his wife Mary Magdalene rather than St. John - has led to a soaring number of bookings.

Organizers of Da Vinci Code tours, which generate a substantial sum in terms of local revenue, have therefore started cutting Milan out of their European itineraries, as they are no longer able to guarantee entry to the masterpiece. The idea of keeping the painting open late into the evening was first launched by Milan's new culture councillor, Vittorio Sgarbi. He suggested an extra three or four hours' viewing time each evening, stressing that this would "cause no problems" for the masterpiece.