The Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie contains a few world renowned masterpieces.
The refectory of the church contains one of the most famous art works ever, the fresco "The Last Supper", painted by the famous Italian painter Leonardo da Vinci. Born in the town of Vinci near Florence
, the painter, sculptor, designer, architect, scientist, musician Leonardo was invited at the end of his life in France, in the King Francis I of France's service and as his friend. He was given the use of the manor house Clos Lucé, near the king's residence at the royal Château d'Amboise, and took with him to France some of his brilliant works: "Saint John the Baptist," the "Virgin and Child with Saint Anne," and "Mona Lisa", which are now part of the Louvre collection. But the composition with the biblical theme, representing "the last dinner", was painted in fresco technique and it remained on the refectory of the Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie. It is a psychological composition, portraying the moment when Jesus said that one of his disciples would betray him and the reactions and expressions of each of the 12 disciples based on their personalities, grouped into four groups: the three in the first group to the left of the painting, Bartholomew, James, son of Alphaeus, and Andrew are all surprised and shocked; then next three, Judas, Peter, and John are the extreme, with differences in temperament (from Judas, with his face in the shadow and greedy, Jesus' traitor, to Peter, his most devoted disciple, and young John, who seems to swoon, or by other interpretations seeming to share Jesus' calm attitude, with absolute confidence and faith in him); then the next group, to Jesus's left, Thomas, James the Greater and Philip, agitated and stunned; then the last group, Matthew, Jude Thaddeus and Simon the Zealot, disputing among themselves. The first two seeming to look for an explanation from Simon. The face of Jesus, framed in the divine triangle, is showing the calm in front of the chaos. The painting is continuously being studied, and there are many interpretations as to what Leonardo actually wanted to represent with Jesus and the 12 disciple's positions and expressions, foods, and settings.
Unfortunately, in time, because of the special technique chose by Leonardo to prepare the medium in order to obtain the luminosity and great detail he sought, the painting has greatly deteriorated, starting immediately after it was finished. It was restored multiple times, the most recent restoration having taken place from 1978 to 1999, for 21 years, and it generated much controversy, critics saying that the colors, facial shapes and details were altered and changed from the original Leonardo painting.
The church also contains Bernardo Zenale's fresco "Resurrection and Passion" and, in the small cloister adjacent to the tribune near the door that leads to the sacristy, a Bramantino's fresco. The Chapel of the Holy Crown, which is to the right of the nave, houses Gaudenzio Ferrari's fresco "Stories of the Passion". The chapel also contained a Titian altarpiece "The Crowning with Thorns", portraying Christ receiving the crown with thorns. The piece was looted during the Napoleonic conquest of the city in 1797 and currently the piece is part of the Musée du Louvre's collection in Paris, France.
The Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie was built at the orders of the Sforza family in the 15th century, being commissioned by Duke of Milan Francesco I Sforza and finished by Duke Ludovico Sforza, on a site of a prior chapel dedicated to St Mary of the Graces. The works started in 1463, and the convent was completed in 1469 while the church was finished in 1497. The architects were Guiniforte Solari and Donato Bramante, while some also attribute some of the works to Giovanni Antonio Amadeo. This view being supported by the similarities it shares with Amadeo's Santa Maria alla Fontana.
In August 1943, during World War II, the church was hit during an Allied forces' bombardment and the refectory suffered extensive damages. Fortunately, the wall holding The Last Supper was sand-bagged for protection and survived.