Tongerlo Abbey houses a remarkable treasure

Since 1545, Tongerlo Abbey has been home to a replica of “The Last Supper” by Leonardo Da Vinci. According to the American author, art historian and Da Vinci expert Jean-Pierre Isbouts, the face of John was certainly painted by the master himself. His deductions are based on the recent scans of the IMEC research centre in Heverlee. The very subtle drawing of John’s nose and lips strongly resembles Da Vinci’s early work, the Mona Lisa. Only Da Vinci had mastered this technique in the 16th century.

Leonardo da Vinci painted his world-famous mural “The Last Supper” between 1495 and 1498. His students subsequently made three copies of the mural. One of these ended up in the Norbertine abbey at Tongerlo. The canvas is 45 square metres in size and is believed to have been produced by Andrea Solari in 1506-07. According to art experts, the heads of Jesus and John were painted by Leonardo da Vinci himself, since there is no underlying sketch beneath the paint layer.



Abbot Arnoud Streyters bought the work in 1545 to decorate the then abbey church. It was almost destroyed or lost on two occasions. During the period of French rule, the monks hid the canvas in a granary, and in 1929 it survived a major fire in the abbey. In 1960 the work received its own building, the Da Vinci Museum.

Art historians attach great importance to the replica at Tongerlo, not only because it is the most faithful, but because the original fresco in the church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie in Milan is increasingly less visible due to pigment fading. Nevertheless, the replica is in need of restoration. Jean-Pierre Isbouts has launched a fundraising campaign to this end. The restoration will cost €500,000.