Visiting a beautiful garden is just one of the things I enjoy doing on a warm Sunday afternoon and as it turns out relaxing and unwinding in an enchanting garden was also what Leonardo da Vinci enjoyed for several years from 1498. With roots from the central Italian region of Tuscany, Da Vinci’s mastery in the fields of art, science, astronomy, cartography, engineering, geology and even botany took him beyond the borders of Florence up north to Milan in 1482 where he began to work for Ludovico Sforza, the visionary Duke of Milan who would become one of Leonardo’s most important patrons.
For over twenty years, Da Vinci engineered Milan’s canal district, drew thousands of sketches preserved in his Codex Atlanticus notebook and of course painted The Last Supper from 1495 to1498 which is now housed within the refectory of the convent of the Santa Maria delle Grazie church. Ludovico Sforza who was impressed with his work gifted Da Vinci a small vineyard as a token of appreciation. Da Vinci found solace in the small vineyard while painting the Last Supper and would retreat there for some lone time. Leonardo himself hailed from a family of winemakers and took great care of the vineyard, even including it in his will at the end of his life.
For several centuries despite the many urban developments taking place in the city of Milan, the vineyard remained miraculously intact. In 1922 the art historian Luca Beltrami visited upon the request of its then owners to research its history. Beltrami photographed it just before it was taken apart for restoration work that had been planned by the architect Piero Portaluppi. Unfortunately, the vineyard faced a lot of adversity including a fire and several bombings in 1943 which destroyed what was left of the once magnificent monument. However, as luck may have it, the estate’s present-day owners replanted it as it had been in Leonardo’s time after DNA testing on the roots of the original vines showed them to be malvasia di candia aromatica, a white grape popular in Renaissance Lombardy. Now the vines are flourishing and the house and grounds are open to the public for accompanied tours.
I visited the vineyard on a warm Sunday afternoon of 1st June 2019 and was brown away by the beauty and history of the courtyard and Atellani building. The vineyard’s history is imperishable and can be felt from the main entrance all through the interiors in the library and along the corridors.