Leonardo: the genius in Milan
  • Europe /
  • Italy /
  • Milan

A unique tour for a special person. Explore Milan through the eyes of Leonardo da Vinci.

Santa Maria Delle Grazie
External view of the church
(by Simone Vaccari, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
(by Simone Vaccari, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
(by Simone Vaccari, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
Interior of Santa Maria delle Grazie (by Ștefan Jurcă, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr)
(by Simone Vaccari, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
Interior view of the Bramante's tribune (by Carlo Dell'Orto, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

External view of the church

The primary reference that links Leonardo to Milan is undoubtedly Santa Maria Delle Grazie, one of the first Italian sites to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. 

The Basilica, belonging to the religious Dominican Order, is a beautiful example of northern Gothic art with three naves, ogival vaults and a gabled façade. The materials used are also those of the Lombard tradition, terracotta for the walls and granite stone for the columns and capitals.

Its history takes us back in time to 1460 CE. During this year, this land we are now standing on was given to a certain Gaspare Vimercati, war leader of the Sforza family, to house his military troops.

There was only a military lodge and a chapel housing a fresco of the Virgin Mary. It is said that Vimercati’s soldiers came here to pray, asking for forgiveness and contemplating the Virgin Mary in search of spiritual peace after the violence of battles.

The nobleman Vimercati in turn, donated the land to the Dominican order, under which it was decided to create a proper church in honour of the Virgin Mary in the painting. So, under the Sforza rule, in 1463 CE, constructions began following the guidance of Guiniforte Solari, renowned and trusted architect of the duchy. As a result, the main parts of the nearby convent were completed around 1469 CE, whereas the church was finished in 1482 CE.

Between 1492 and 1493 CE, one of the most remarkable examples of the Italian Renaissance, the “Tribuna Bramantesca”, was built at the behest of the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Il Moro, to serve as a mausoleum for his family. 

The structure has a precise geometric figure of imposing dimensions, rising in the centre of the church with a characteristic hemispherical dome. It recalls circular and spherical motifs, symbols of perfection.

Inside the Basilica, we can admire the Renaissance splendour of the Sforza Duchy, so much desired by Ludovico. This desire for beauty and art prompted the Milanese Duke to commission Leonardo, what will be celebrated today as his masterpiece. 

After Beatrice’s decease in 1497 CE, Ludovico suffered greatly from the death of his beloved, especially from feelings of guilt related to his betrayals and the lack of stability she represented. Some sources report that he often visited his wife’s body, buried here in the Basilica, walking the same path we traversed from his residences in the castle several times a day. The duke commissioned in her honour a magnificent funeral monument with their two reclining figures carved in marble. Still, it remained unfinished due to the consequent French conquest of the duchy. It was later dismantled and largely dispersed. Only the cover with the funeral statues was saved and transferred empty to the “Certosa of Pavia”, which still stands outside of Milan.


1. Water dams

2. The statue

3. Leonardo’s museum

4. The symbol of Milan

5. Experiments

6. The castle

7. Santa Maria Delle Grazie

8. The masterpiece

9. Leonardo’s vineyard

10. The art gallery

11. A creativity that will last forever