Da Vinci's 'Last Supper' Gets Digital Makeover

Modern methods are breathing new life into this more than 500-year-old masterpiece.

Bright, vivid colors adorned Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, according to a digital reconstruction of the masterpiece at the exhibition "Leonardo da Vinci's Workshop" at Discovery Times Square Exposition in New York.

Painted to provide monks at the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan with something to contemplate during meals, the mural is considered one of da Vinci's greatest works.

WATCH VIDEO: Did Leonardo DaVinci use his own shadow to create the outline of Jesus in The Last Supper?

Unfortunately, the painting began to deteriorate as soon as it was finished in 1498.

"Today, The Last Supper is faded and cracked. Thus, these brilliant, saturated colors may appear shocking, but we believe this reconstruction is the closest representation of how the fresco must have looked like when Leonardo painted it," Mario Taddei, exhibit creator and scientist at Milan's Leonardo3, told Discovery News.

BIG PIC: Take a closer look at Leonardo3's reconstruction of The Last Supper here.

The digital reconstruction is the result of painstaking analysis based on hundreds of high-definition photographs of the masterpiece.

"It was a sort of archaeological reconstruction. The high-definition pictures allowed us to localize the original pigments," Taddei said.

Pixel by pixel, the researchers cloned da Vinci's original pigments, using their virtual palette to restore areas where the color is irreparably lost.

In order to complete the fresco's missing parts -- a doorway was cut through the mural in 1652, lopping off Jesus' feet -- Taddei and colleagues turned to contemporary copies of The Last Supper, such as the one by Giampietrino, a painter influenced by da Vinci.

"We have managed to reconstruct the entire scene. It was a huge task, since only 20 percent remains of the original Last Supper," Taddei said.

Indeed, trouble for this masterpiece began just a few years after it was completed, mainly due to da Vinci's painting technique.

Unlike conventional fresco murals, in which water-based paint is applied on wet plaster to adhere to the surface as the wall dries, da Vinci's piece was executed with multiple layers of oil and plaster.

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