Art, Travel & Life in Italy & Europe

3 Last Suppers in Florence where you can dine this summer

Although the most famous Last Supper painting is that by Leonardo in Milan, the phenomenon of large frescoes of the topic in monastic refectories is actually a characteristically Florentine Renaissance one. In Florence this summer is an extraordinary opportunity to dine in the locations of three Last Supper paintings from the Renaissance era, on the occasion of Expo 2015 in Milan, a nice way to tie together this artistic connection between the two cities.

Dinner in the courtyard of San Marco

Dinner in the courtyard of San Marco

The whole country has planned events in honour of the world exposition and its theme, “Feeding the planet.” Orti e Cenacoli is one such event: a series of five very special dinners organized by the local Camera di Commercio and carried out by PromoFirenze, special agency of the Chamber of Commerce, with Grassi+Partners PR. Events are held in the courtyards of monastic institutions with Last Supper paintings. The menus are developed by talented guest chefs with ingredients that are part of a local sustainable project. Each meal is preceded by an opportunity for a private visit of the location, either with a guide or on your own. The initiative intends to provoke reflection on themes like agricultural sustainability and the sacred significance of dining as a union of art, nature and conviviality.

Let’s take a look at the three locations of the dinners and some photos from the meals held there. Three dates remain, through September 2015, and are listed below.

Cenacolo di Santo Spirito

Andrea Orcagna painted a Last Supper with a large Crucifixion scene above it in the refectory of Santo Spirito in the 1360s. Sadly not well conserved, only the edges remain as the wall was opened up for a doorway. The room now houses the Fondazione Salvatore Romano, the eclectic collection (from the Romans to the 17th century) of antiquarian Salvatore Romano, donated to the City of Florence in 1946.

Poccetti Last Supper, Santo Spirito

Poccetti Last Supper, Santo Spirito

Another refectory – called Refettorio Nuovo – contains a later Last Supper by Bernardo Poccetti from the 16th century. This is in the part of the convent managed by the Agostinians and not normally open to the public, an aspect that makes dining here and visiting this space extremely special.

The Church of Santo Spirito, designed by Brunelleschi but heavily modified after his death, houses a crucifix attributed to Michelangelo, as well as numerous altarpieces from the 15th and 16th centuries by the school of Ghirlandaio, Filippino Lippi and others.

Dinner in the courtyard of Santo Spirito

Dinner in the courtyard of Santo Spirito

I’ve never actually visited the courtyard of this church (it’s closed to the public), in which the Orti e Cenacoli dinner was held on June 11 – but from this photo it looks like it would be worth discovering!

Cenacolo di Ognissanti

Ognissanti, Last Supper by Ghirlandaio (Credit: Wikipedia)

Ognissanti, Last Supper by Ghirlandaio (Credit: Wikipedia)

The Last Supper in this refectory is a beautiful work by Domenico Ghirlandaio in 1480. The room’s arches are illusionistically incorporated into the background of the painting, which seems to open up into a garden or landscape containing fruit trees and birds, most of which allude to Christ, paradise, martyrdom etc. In the foreground, the table with Christ and his apostles (and Judas on the other side) is set with a beautiful embroidered tablecloth that looks like it had been just ironed and unfolded. The “alla Perugina” style of embroidery contains symbols of salvation, sin and Paradise in the various fruits and vegetables represented. The decorative items like the metal plate at the right and the pitchers at the left would have been common to the prestigious contemporary households from which many of the religious men here came.

The church of Ognissanti is also famous for housing a beautiful Crucifix by Giotto, recently restored, and a fragment of a painting by Botticelli.

Cenacolo di San Marco

Ghirlandaio, Last Supper at San Marco

Ghirlandaio, Last Supper at San Marco

A small dining room at San Marco, likely used for guests rather than for the entire monastic community, contains a perfectly preserved fresco by Domenico Ghirlandaio that is almost a carbon copy, on a smaller scale, of the one at Ognissanti. The significance of the tablecloth decorations and items present is the same.

Detail of the Ghirlandaio fresco

Detail of the Ghirlandaio fresco

A larger refectory is also present, with a work that looks a lot like a Last Supper but is actually a “Cena miracolosa di San Domenico e Crocifissione tra Santa Caterina da Siena e Sant’Antonino” by Giovanni Antonio Sogliani (1536).

San Marco, refectory with painting by Giovanni Antonio Sogliani

San Marco, refectory with painting by Giovanni Antonio Sogliani

The Dinners

Detail of table setting, Orti e Cenacoli at San Marco

Detail of table setting, Orti e Cenacoli at San Marco

The Orti e Cenacoli dinners are my idea of heaven. I’m a fan of modern Italian cuisine and of the use of natural ingredients. Many of the vegetables used in this project were grown in an urban garden planted last December by teachers and students of the Florence Agricultural Institution and located adjacent to Villa Bardini. Tending the garden was in part the job of twelve of high school students with learning disabilities or difficult situations, a large number of whom graduated this year and who benefited muchly from the experiment.

San Marco dinner

San Marco dinner

The chefs participating in the project are Michelin starred Marco Stabile (Ora d’Aria, Florence), Maria Probst (La Tenda Rossa, Cerbaia), Filippo Saporito (La Leggenda dei Frati, Florence), Entiana Osmenzaza (Sesto on Arno, Florence) and Luca Landi (Lunasia, Tirrenia/Viareggio). The menus they prepare are based on the items grown in the urban garden as well as sourcing local, often unusual ingredients, like the “coniglio verde leporino di Viterbo” that was prepared in perfect fried bites by Probst for the meal I attended at San Marco. Each night includes an aperitivo, an amuse-bouche, primo, secondo and dessert, accompanied by wines provided by local wineries.

Glassware and flowers down the centre of the table

Glassware and flowers down the centre of the table

The long, convivial table set up in the historic courtyard (with appropriate floor coverings to protect the art and architecture) are refined wooden boards on A-frames, imitating many of the historic tables pictured in the Renaissance frescoes. A long linen runner is punctuated by fine glassware, lighting and decorative items. At Santo Spirito, olive branches were strewn on the table, while at San Marco, bowls of cherries and loaves of bread imitated those found in the fresco by Ghirlandaio.

Booking information

Orti e Cenacoli
July 16, Santo Spirito / September 10, San Marco / September 24, Ognissanti
booking: boxofficetoscana (€80/pp)
info: expo2015firenze.it

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By: arttrav

Alexandra Korey aka ArtTrav is a Florence-based art historian and arts marketing consultant.

  • http://www.angloitalianfollowus.com/ Anglo Italian

    Wow, it looks fantastic. I love the whole setting, those places look amazing and great spots to have dinner. Do you know if they would be ready to serve some vegan options too?

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Hi! I think they would accommodate any eating requirements – they were incredibly nice about my own allergies and vegetarianism. I would just recommend giving PLENTY of advance notice.

  • Ishita

    Looks fabulous! I think I should head there next time I come :) Thanks much <3

  • Suzie Provo

    I have signed up for the Sept.10th dinner at San Marcos! Yay! I am coming to Florence by myself for a year, arriving first week of Aug. Hope the participants in this event are friendly to stranieri who aren’t anywhere near fluent in Italian yet, and who are attending solo😉. Do I need to sign up for the guided tour of the cloister before the dinner? I was emailed a confirmation of my reservation, which I printed, but is there also a ticket I should be printing out? Appreciate your input😀
    Grazie,
    Suzie

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Hi Suzie,
    I’m so glad you found out about this opportunity from my blog! I am sure you will love it.
    This event is totally friendly to visitors who speak no or little italian! They probably will seat you near people they know you can talk to. I will pass on your name to the organizer though so she knows who you are!
    I don’t think you need to print anything else out, they will have your name on a list at the door.
    Since you’re coming for the whole year, I hope we’ll meet – do follow The Florentine (where I also work) – we have lots of mixer events and also list all the expat community events in the events listing of the paper (pick up a paper copy at various points around town, or subscribe to be sure at theflr.net/pdfsub

    cheers
    Alexandra

  • Suzie Provo

    Thanks so much, Alexandra! I have an online subscription to The Florentine :-) . I go by Suzie, but I signed up for the event as Susan (as it is my given name and all ID is in that name) Looking forward to meeting you in Florence.
    Best,
    Suzie

  • Orti e Cenacoli

    Dear Suzie, we’re so glad you’re joining us in San Marco for the Sept. 10th dinner! We’re definitely friendly to foreigners : ) and we will do our best to accomodate you near english-speaking italians. The Orti e Cenacoli experience consists of the aperitivo, the visit and the dinner so you don’t need to book the guided tour. And no, you don’t have to print your ticket – we have your name on the list. Looking forward to meeting you next September 10th!

  • Suzie Provo

    Grazie mille!!
    Suzie

  • Kathy Duckworth

    I made reservations for 3 persons for the Sept 10th dinner at San Marco. I did receive a confirmation email, but it did not have the date and location listed. I’m concerned I may have overlooked something in the process of completing the online reservation. Would you be able to check on that for me? Thank you very much!
    Kathy Duckworth

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Hi Kathy
    Glad you did! My guess is that their system is not very sophisticated so that’s why there isn’t the date on it, but I’m going to forward your request to the organizers to check and respond to you.
    Enjoy!
    Alexandra

  • Orti e Cenacoli

    Dear Kathy,
    Thanks a lot for your booking!
    We’re very sorry for your encovenience. I checked your problem yesterday morning, since your order reported no details about the date and the location you choosed. I’ve spoke with our booking service and they’ve just sent you an email to resolve your problem and ask your order details and they’re waiting for your answer,
    For all your enquiries about the booking please write to supporto@boxofficetoscana.it or to expo2015@grassipartners.com.
    Looking forward to see you at the dinner!

  • Kathy Duckworth

    Thank you so much, Alexandra! I may have sent a duplicate message to Orti e Cenacoli, but wasn’t sure it really went through. You are most helpful!

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    No problem at all! It’s a great event and I’m glad you spotted it here on arttrav!

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