Da Vinci's 'Last Supper' Goes Online

Leonardo Da Vinci's masterpiece "The Last Supper" is shown on a giant screen at the Bramante Sacristy in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in Milan, Italy, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2007. (Image credit: AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

MILAN, Italy (AP) — Can't get to Milan to see Leonardo Da Vinci's masterpiece "The Last Supper?'' As of Saturday, all you need is an Internet connection. Officials put online an image of the "Last Supper'' at 16 billion pixels — 1,600 times stronger than the images taken with the typical 10 million pixel digital camera.

The high resolution will allow experts to examine details of the 15th century wall painting that they otherwise could not — including traces of drawings Leonardo put down before painting.

The high-resolution allows viewers to look at details as though they were inches from the art work, in contrast to regular photographs, which become grainy as you zoom in, said curator Alberto Artioli.

"You can see how Leonardo made the cups transparent, something you can't ordinarily see,'' said Artioli. "You can also note the state of degradation the painting is in.''

Besides allowing experts and art-lovers to study the masterpiece from home, Artioli said the project provides an historical document of how the painting appears in 2007, which will be valuable to future generations of art historians.

Although there appeared to be problems with the Web site late Saturday, it was accessible earlier in day.

The work, in Milan's Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, was restored in a painstaking effort that wrapped up in 1999 — a project aimed at reversing half a millennium of damage to the famed artwork. Leonard painted the "Last Supper'' dry, so the painting did not cleave to the surface in the fresco style, meaning it is more delicate and subject to wear.

"Over the years it has been subjected to bombardments; it was used as a stall by Napoleon,'' Artioli said. The restoration removed 500 years of dirt while also removing previous restoration works that masked Leonardo's own work.

Even those who get to Milan have a hard time gaining admission to see the "Last Supper.'' Visits have been made more difficult by measures to protect it. Twenty-five visitors are admitted every 15 minutes to see the painting for a total of about 320,000 visitors a year. Visitors must pass through a filtration system to help reduce the work's exposure to dust and pollutants.

"The demand is three or four times higher, but we can't accommodate it because of efforts to preserve the painting,'' Artioli said.