Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was born in Vinci near Florence in 1452. From 1469 to 1478, he was an apprentice in the studio of Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-1488), a master in the art of sculpture, painting and precious metal work.
After his training, Leonardo da Vinci strove to obtain work with powerful sponsors, first in Florence, then in Milan under the patronage of Duke Ludovico Sforza (1452-1508) to whom he addressed a letter setting out his multiple talents in 1482.
In 1499, he left Milan as French troops entered the town and made several trips to Mantua, Venice, Florence, then to Rome and the Romagna region under the patronage of Cesare Borgia (1475-1507).
Once back in Florence, in 1505 he obtained permission to work for the French governor to Milan, Charles d'Amboise (1473-1511). When Louis XII (1462-1498-1515) returned to Milan in May 1509 to lead his armies against Venice, Leonardo followed the king, acting as a military engineer.
In September 1513, Leonardo da Vinci left for Rome in the service of Giuliano de Medici (1478-1516), brother of Pope Leo X (1475-1513-1521). In December 1515, the Italian genius was in Bologna when King François Ier (1494-1515-1547), victorious at Marignan, met with Pope Leo X. Upon the death of his patron Giuliano de Medici in March 1516, Leonardo da Vinci accepted the French king's invitation and went to Amboise.
After a perilous and exhausting journey for a man of 64, Leonardo da Vinci arrived in Amboise where the king put at his disposal the Manoir du Cloux (today called Clos Lucé), close to the Royal Château, with one sole command, « Here Leonardo, you will be free to dream, to think and to work ».
He accorded him the role of "first painter" and granted him an exceptional pension of seven hundred gold crowns a year.
In Amboise, despite a mild paralysis in his hand, Leonardo da Vinci continued to create. He brought with him three of his works to which he was very attached: "The Mona Lisa" "St. John the Baptist" and "The Virgin and Child with St. Anne". These three masterpieces are now exhibited at the Louvre museum.
He also played a part in sumptuous celebrations and put his talents as an engineer to good use to give them an incomparable splendour. In 1518, to mark the baptism of the dauphin prince and the marriage of the Pope's nephew, Lorenzo II de Medici (1492-1519), Duc d'Urbino, he created an animated décor featuring the night sky and its constellations. He recreated, with a great many special effects, a battlefield and the taking of an Italian town to celebrate the French king's victories. His creations during his final years in France did not stop there because the king tasked him with drawing up ambitious waterways plans. In particular, he envisaged the creation of a canal linking the Loire and the Saône in order to facilitate travel between his adopted region of Touraine and Tuscany, where he was born. The king also commissioned from him plans for a palace and a new town at Romorantin. The project was grandiose but in the end was never completed.
On 23rd April 1519, sensing his final hour approaching, Leonardo da Vinci went to register his will with the lawyer Bourreau in Amboise. In fact, he died a few days later, on 2nd May, at the age of 67.
On hearing the news, François Ier was distraught with grief. Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571) recorded what the king said about his subject, "he went as far to say that Leonardo […] was, [because of his unrivalled knowledge], a very great philosopher."
In accordance with his last wishes, François Ier had Leonardo da Vinci's remains brought to the royal château, into the collegiate church of Saint-Florentin. The cortege was made up of canons, priests and religious figures escorted by 60 paupers bearing torches. His body was buried right inside the collegiate church without the pomp and ceremony usually reserved for the greatest geniuses.
However, in the early 19th century, the artist's resting place was disturbed. In return for outright ownership of the château, its new owner, the senator Roger Ducos, was required to maintain and restore all the buildings at his own cost. His understanding of the term "restoration" seems a bit different to ours today, since he had the buildings he judged to be too dilapidated demolished. In 1811, the Saint-Florentin collegiate church was therefore pulled down and the body of the Italian master seemed to have been lost forever…
Luckily, the archaeological digs led in 1863 by Arsène Houssaye (1814-1890), inspector of Fine Arts, brought to light a skeleton. It had the right hand placed behind the head. Fragments of tomb were also found – with the markings –EO -AR –DUS –VINC- and French and Italian medals from the start of François 1er's reign. Houssaye was thus convinced that he had found the remains of Leonardo da Vinci. The bones were piously gathered and in 1874 were buried in the château's current chapel, the Saint-Hubert. Since that day, Leonardo da Vinci has enjoyed eternal rest, barely bothered by tourists from around the world who have come to pay their respects to him.
Amboise, Royal Château
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