A unique tour for a special person. Explore Milan through the eyes of Leonardo da Vinci.
Statue of Leonardo da Vinci in La Scala Square (Pietro Magni, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
After a walk along busy Milanese streets, we arrive at La Scala Square, where a statue stands in its centre. This is the statue of Leonardo, the Tuscan genius, created in the second half of the 19th century CE by sculptor Pietro Magni to celebrate the strong connection between Leonardo and Milan.
The figures below depict Leonardo’s four pupils: Marco D’Oggiono, Salaino, Cesare da Sesto and Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, Leonardo’s travelling companions and trusted apprentices who accompanied him to various courts in Italy and France.
However, perhaps the most important one is missing from these characters: Francesco Melzi. As we will explore later on, he was the one to whom Leonardo, having no children, devised much of his fortune upon his death.
The structure has an octagonal shape, as a subtle hint of the close friendship between Leonardo and Donato Bramante, a very skilled architect of the time who favoured precisely octagonal geometry. Each side represents an aspect of the Florentine master’s life and works during his time in Milan. These many faces of his life are a reminder of his unique personality characterised by a changing, creative, fascinating vein to which we owe much today.
In the shadow of this meaningful statue, we may take a step back, shedding light on Leonardo’s life and the Renaissance situation that enveloped Milan in the 15th century CE.
Painter, architect and scientist Leonardo was born in Vinci, a village near Florence, on April 15, 1452 CE. He personified perhaps the quintessential Renaissance genius, forever revolutionising art and science.
Leonardo was the illegitimate son of a notary, and he settled in Florence in 1466 CE. By 1472 CE, he was already enrolled in the “Compagnia Dei Pittori” (Painters’ Company), indicating his artistic talents.
He arrived in Milan in 1478 CE at the court of the Milanese Duke Ludovico Sforza. According to some sources, he was sent here as a musician by the Lord of Florence Lorenzo De Medici, known as “The Magnificent,” to show the Florentine arts in other Italian Renaissance duchies.
We must remember that during the Renaissance, the Italian territory was divided into kingdoms, each of which was often ruled by the local noble family. Sometimes allied, sometimes enemies, these families constantly fought to consolidate or extend their territorial hegemony. These never-ending games of power were not only characterised by intrigues, wars and bloodshed but also by real contests of art and architectural beauty.
Interestingly, in a letter from Leonardo to Ludovico Sforza, the Tuscan artist declares himself capable of designing war devices, works of architecture, sculpting, and painting. So we can imagine an ambitious young Leonardo presenting himself to the Duke of Milan, eager to show off his qualities and, above all, making sure not to limit his reputation to a “simple” musician.
In Milan, Da Vinci, commission after commission, won the trust of the Duke, confirming his figure in court as a painter and engineer. During his stay at the Duchy of Milan, Leonardo began and completed many works of various kinds, making this period perhaps the most prolific of his career.