April 2019: the Leonardo special!

Monday, 15 April 2019

Leonardo events and exhibitions in 2019:

Leonardo events and exhibitions in 2019:

Vinci, Tuscany, 2019:

Vinci is a lovely small town an hour’s drive west of Florence.  Leonardo was born here to Caterina, an unmarried teenage servant, and Ser Piero da Vinci, a Florentine noble man, who was well-married in Florence but none-the-less recognised Leonardo as his son.  Leonardo sent a happy childhood in his grandfather’s home in Vinci under the watchful eye of his uncle (Ser Piero’s younger brother) to whom he was very attached.  Some of the events in Vinci in 2019:

Leonardo a Vinci.  The Origins of a Genius; Rocca dei Conti Guidi, Vinci; www.museoleonardiano.it; until to 15 October.  ‘Design 8p’ is the prosaic name given to the first work (a beautiful landscape) ever signed and dated by Leonardo da Vinci (5 August 1473 when he was 21) – the centrepiece of the exhibition.

Museo Leonardiano.  Castello dei Conti Guidi, Vinci, www.museoleonardiano.it.  The Conti Guidi castle dominates the centre of town and holds the largest collection of machines (from war machines to flying machines) built from the master’s own designs and drawing.

Biblioteca Leonardiana.  Via Giorgio La Pira 1, Vinci, www.bibliotecaleonardiana.it.  This hidden gem holds copies of all the manuscripts produced by the master, as well every publication of his works since 1651, all of which are visible on www.leonardodigitale.com.

Florence, Tuscany, 2019:

In the mid-1460s Leonardo took up an apprenticeship in the ‘bottega’ Andrea del Verrocchio (an innovator whose other apprentices included Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Perugino).  Under Lorenzo Medici, il Magnifico, Florence was an intellectual and culture centre.  Through his experience with Verrocchio and his artistic rivalries with Michelangelo and Raphael (among others) Florence was fundamental in Leonardo’s development.

Uffizi Gallery, Piazzale degli Uffizi 6, Florence, www.uffizi.it.  Only twenty-four paintings by Leonardo exist, three of them are in the Uffizi Gallery.  Since July last year, the paintings have been displayed together, immediately after the general 15th century section.  To avoid queues, it is now possible to buy tickets at specific times via new kiosks outside the Gallery or via the Gallery’s website.

Verrocchio, the Master of Lwonardo, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, www.palazzostrozzi.org, until 14 July.  Known as the ’Master of the Masters’ was a polymath, an innovative teracher who had a profound influence on the Florentine Renaissance.  In his workshop he taught his students (who included Leonard, Ghirlandaoi, Botticelli and Raphael) to draw, paint, sculpt and even forge bronze.  This exhibition includes over 120 works by himself and his students.

Milan, Lombardy, 2019:

Leonardo was 30 years old when, in 1482, he moved to Milan to the court of strongman Ludovico Sforza, known as Il Moro.  He was employed primarily as an engineer, specifically to design and cast cannons and a gargantuan bronze horse statue to celebrate Ludovico’s late father.  He stayed in Milan until 1499 and it was here that the promising student of Verrocchio became the universal genius that we know today.

The Last Supper (Cenacolo Vinciano), Piazza Santa Maria 2, Corso Magenta, Milan, www.polomuseale.lombardia.beniculturali.it).  A very fragile mural in the refectory of a Benedictine convent, this masterpiece was definitively restored in 1999 (including the removal of eleven layers of earlier restorations).  The rigorous controls only allow 30 people per 30 minutes to visit.  Visits can be booked via www.vivaticket.it and must be made a long way in advance.

Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Piazza Pio XI 2, Milano, www.ambrosiana.eu.  On his death in France, Leonardo left his vast collection of writings, drawing and designs to his assistant Francesco Melzi.  On his death they were broken up into random collections known as Codex.  The largest of these is held in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in the centre of Milan.  This venerable library is holding a series of exhibitions throughout the year, details on the website.

France, 2019:

“You will be free to dream, to think and to work”.  So wrote King Francis I of France to the aging Leonardo in Rome, an offer to good to refuse.  So, at 64 years with a very comfortable stipend, Leonardo left Italy in 1516 to live in his very own castle, connected by a tunnel to principle residence of the king, in the heart of the Loire Valley.  Here he dreamt, thought and worked until his death three years later, visited daily by the king.  The Loire Valley are hosting a fabulous range of events throughout 2019 to celebrate the genius, details at:  www.vivadavinci2019.fr.

Leonardo da Vinci, Musee du Louvre, Paris, www.louvre.fr from 24 October to 24 February.  Leonardo took a vast library of books and works with him to France, including his three most cherished paintings:  St John the Baptist, the Virgin on the Rocks and, of course, the Mona Lisa.  The Louvre, in Paris, has the most important collection of Leonardo’s works in existence.  This will form the centrepiece of their extraordinary exhibition of the year (anywhere!) but will be supplemented by other masterpieces including paintings of St Gerome (from the Vatican); The Annunciation (from the Uffizi), Portrait of a Musician (from Milan) and the Salvator Mundi, the most expensive painting privately owned (sold recently for $500 million).  Worth a trip alone!

Hidden Italy Weekend: Vinci, a classic Tuscan town.

Hidden Italy Weekend:  Vinci, a classic Tuscan town.

An hour’s drive west of Florence, Vinci is the archetypal Tuscan town: a small farming town of around 15,000 people, it sits on a hill, crowded around the ruins of a 15th century castle surrounded by low-rise, modern housing and a smattering of light industry, with a patchwork of farmlands spreading out in front of it, vineyards and olive groves climbing up to the slopes of Montalbano behind.  With no medieval towers or Renaissance frescos to call the tourist masses, it has a relaxed work-a-day atmosphere, the perfect place to sit in the piazza with a coffee or a glass of red and watch the world go by.

With the 500th anniversary of its most famous son, Leonardo, this year may be a little busier with people coming to visit the town to pay homage to the ‘universal genius’.  Apart from the cars, lighting and signage, the small historic centre of Vinci seems to have changed little from Leonardo’s day:  the cobbled lanes, the church of Santa Croce where he was baptised and the craggy form of the medieval Conti Guidi castle that still dominates the town.  In the evening, it’s not hard to imagine the young Leonardo wandering the streets but the most evocative element is in the countryside and landscapes around Vinci. 

Leonardo grew up in his grandfather’s house, with his uncle Francesco (his father’s younger brother) next door.  Leonard spent much of his time growing up with his beloved uncle exploring the Montalbano mountains behind the town, a childhood in touch with nature observing birds, flowers, waterways and fossils.  This experience stayed with him throughout his life, the beautiful Tuscan landscapes a recurring theme in all his paintings.  There is an extensive network of marked hiking trails around the town (the local tourist has excellent maps) and the best way to channel Leonardo is to pull on your boots, get your backpack on and hit the trails!

With a number of other very interesting towns in the neighbourhood, Vinci makes a very good base from which to explore a little-visited part of Tuscany.

How to get there:

By car:  Take the Fi-Pi-Li (the Florence-Pisa-Livorno) highway to Empoli and then the SP 13 road to Vinci.  By train:  From Florence, take the train to Empoli and then the bus to Vinci from the station (www.piubus.it).  By air:  Peretola (Florence) airport is 45 kms from Vinci.

Where to stay:

Hotel Mona Lisa (Via Lamporecchiana 27, Vinci).  There are only two hotels in Vinci, this is the best of two.  It is a simple but welcoming and very comfortable 3-star hotel.  Double rooms with breakfast from 70 euro.

B&B Antica Bottega di Vinci (Via di Sant’Amato, 121).  This family-run b&b is five kms out of Vinci, just past the great man’s birthplace.  It has beautiful view across the hills and plain to the Arno River.

Belvedere Farmhouse (Castelfiorentino, www.belvederefarmhouse.com).  This magnificent estate was built in the early 1900s and operated as a farm until the 1950s.  Recently restored, it has 10 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms, 4 living rooms and a 11 x 4 mt swimming pool.

Fattoria di Bacchereto (Via Fontemorana 179 Carmignano).  This charming agriturismo was once a Medici hunting lodge and is a beautiful setting surrounded by vineyards.  It is on the other (Florence) side of Montalbano, joined to Vinci by well-marked walking trail.

Where to eat:

Antica Cantina di Bacco (Piazza Leonardo da Vinci 3, Vinci).  At the foot of the castle in the centre of Vinci, this atmospheric hotel serves traditional Tuscan foot and has a wine cellar with over four hundred labels.  Around 20 euro per person.

La Burra da Vinici (Via Orbignanese, 15).  This restaurant is set in a 17th century water mill on a farm a short drive from Vinci.  The cooking is simple and mostly uses produce (vegetables, oil and wine) from the farm.  Cost per person is around 20 euro.

What to do:

Friday night:

Check into your accommodation then head to Piazza Leonardo da Vinci under the castle to enjoy the sun setting over the Tuscan countryside before having dinner in one of the central restaurants.

Saturday morning:

Explore Vinci.  There is not much to the town of Vinci but it does contain some very interesting places to visit including the Museo Leonardiano, a fascinating museum set in the Conti Guido Castle.  Dedicated to Leonardo the scientist and engineer, the museum holds an extensive collection of machines built from his drawings and designs, including his celebrated flying machines.  The nearby Biblioteca Leonardiana contains copies of manuscript produced by the Master as well as a comprehensive collection of works on Leonardo published since 1651.

Carlo Pedretti was one of the most respected experts on the life and works of Leonardo.  On his death the Pedretti Foundation was established in Villa Baronti-Pezzatini, an historic palazzo in the centre of Vinci has an interesting program for 2019 including ‘Leonardo Sculptor’ an exhibition that features Leonardo’s only surviving sculpture: Archangel Gabrielle and. Later in the year, an exhibition of Leonardo’s theatrical works (scenography and costumes).

Saturday afternoon:

Go for a walk to visit Leonardo’s birthplace.  A number of trails start at the castle, including the ‘Sentiero Verde’ (the Green Trail), a four kilometres walk along a marked trail to the hamlet of Anchiano, where you can visit the modest stone house where the genius was born.  Along the way, you can visit Villa del Ferrale, a handsome farmhouse that is hosting that presents high-resolution reproductions of all Leonardo’s twenty-four paintings.


Sunday:  Go touring.

Leonardo isn’t the only Renaissance genius to be born in the area.  Following in the tracks of these men provides an interesting itinerary though this in this not-so-well-known part of Tuscany.

Empoli is the provincial capital.  Sitting on the Arno River, it is an industrial centre that was badly damaged in World War II.  It is not immediately prepossessing, however, it is a prosperous town and has a very attractive historical centre with excellent shopping and some very fine pastry shops.  It is worth a visit on Sunday morning to join the locals in the passeggiata (be careful not to go clockwise, the wrong direction) and a coffee after Mass.

Pontorme, once an independent village, now an outer suburb of Empoli, was the birthplace of Jacopo Carucci, noted as Pontormo, one of the first masters of Mannerism.  Unfortunately, there are none of his dreamy, colourful works in Empoli but there are a number in Florence as well as his most striking work (The Visitation) which found in a small church outside Carmignano (a short drive from Vinci).

A short drive west from of Empoli along the Arno, is the confluence with the Elsa River.  If you turn left here and drive into the Val d’Elsa you come to Castelfiorentino.  Again not an immediately prepossessing town, Castelfiotentio has an interesting history and an attractive centre, including the BeGo Museum, dedicated to one of the early Renaissance masters, Benozzo Gozzoli (1420 – 1497).  Although born in Florence, the artist had strong connection with the Val D’Elsa.  The museum features a wonderful cycle of frescos retrieved from a nearly church.

Further on down the Val d’Elsa you come to the small town of Certaldo, which in contrast to the preceding towns, is a very striking hill-town, all red-brick towers, battlements and mansions.  Sitting high on a bluff, it is visible from miles and, in turn, enjoys great views from its walls, as far south as San Gimignano. 

Certaldo was the birth place of Giovanni Boccaccio, poet and scholar, best remembered as the author of the earthy tales in the Decameron.  With Petrarch he laid the foundations for the humanism of the Renaissance and raised vernacular literature to the level and status of the classics of antiquity.

You can take a funicular up into the old town, enjoy the views and visit a small museum to the great man in the optimistically named Casa di Giovanni Boccaccio (which was actually built after World War I).

Sunday:  Go for walk.

Get out there into the countryside that is immortalised in Leonardo’s paintings.  There is an extensive network in the mountains behind Vinci, including the Cammino of Leonardo, a walk that starts in Vinci (the home of Leonardo’s paternal grandfather) goes up over Montealbano (via Anchiano, Leonardo’s birthplace) and finishes at the village of Baccheretto (the home of his maternal grandmother). 

It is a challenging walk, 15 kms with 500 mts of ascent, but it follows well marked trails along unsealed country road.  You’ll need to take lunch and water with you.  The tourist office in Vinci has excellent walking maps available.

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