Oxford to return RA’s copy of The Last Supper

The copy by Leonardo's student is the most faithful extant work



The Royal Academy of Arts plans to reclaim its copy of Leonardo’s Last Supper and put it on permanent display for the first time since the 1930s. The full-scale canvas copy of Leonardo’s mural, painted by his pupil Giampietrino, was one of the main loans in the National Gallery’s Leonardo exhibition, which closed last month.

Within hours of his election last December, the academy’s president, Christopher Le Brun, told The Art Newspaper that he wanted to bring home The Last Supper. It has been on long-term loan to Magdalen College in Oxford for 20 years.

Giampietrino’s copy, dating from about 1520, is important because it is the earliest and most accurate depiction of Leonardo’s mural, which deteriorated very badly after it was painted in Milan in the 1490s. The faithfulness of the copy is so good that it was sent to Milan in the mid-1980s to guide conservators who were restoring the original.

The academy bought the Giampietrino in 1821, as a teaching aid. In 1939, the painting was rolled up and evacuated for safekeeping. Since the war, The Last Supper has only been shown in three academy exhibitions. In 1992, the academy lent the work to Magdalen College, where it was hung in the chapel.

In the National Gallery’s Leonardo exhibition, the Giampietrino copy formed the centrepiece of a display in the Sunley Room, taking up an entire wall. After the show closed on 5 February, it was sent to Madrid, for “Da Vinci: the Genius” at the Centro de Exposiciones Arte Canal (until 3 May). The painting is due to return to Magdalen on 23 May, where it will remain until space can be found at the academy.

The Last Supper is nearly 8m long and 3m high. The academy hopes to find a suitable space for the work in its Burlington Gardens building, which is due to be refurbished in some years’ time.