A unique tour for a special person. Explore Milan through the eyes of Leonardo da Vinci.
We move just a few steps away to “Casa Atellani”, which stands across the street in Piazza Santa Maria Delle Grazie.
This fifteenth-century residence that belonged to Ludovico, Duke of Milan, is considered another example of Sforza’s embellishment of the city. Ludovico’s efforts aimed to compete with other Italian Renaissance beauties of the time, such as Venice, Florence, and Rome.
Notably, this house gave space to artists, artisans and courtiers to create a prestigious environment worth the power of the duchy.
The Sforza donated this particular estate to the courtiers, the Atellani family, from whom it took its name.
Today it is a splendid residence with sumptuous Renaissance-style rooms and a magnificent inner courtyard. However, this hidden garden is the protagonist of a curious pastime of Leonardo.
The place is closely linked to Da Vinci because of a vineyard (which can still be visited) given to him by Ludovico in 1498 CE as a gift for his many artistic services at the Sforza court. During his days frescoing The Last Supper, the Florentine master lodged on this estate, taking care of his beloved vineyard.
We can imagine Leonardo crossing the street at an early hour and heading off to contemplate his work.
Some sources speak of Leonardo’s habits while working on the Last Supper. In particular, the Renaissance novelist Matteo Bandello, who was staying to study in the Basilica convent at that time, tells us about Leonardo’s long sessions of observation and calculation spent in front of the fresco without touching either water or food.
However, Leonardo had just enough time to finish the fresco, as a year later, in 1499 CE, war winds loomed over Milan’s duchy. After the death of Beatrice, the Sforza’s enemy, Louis XII, king of France, took advantage of the unstable Milanese situation by sending his troops into Ludovico’s territories. The Duke himself and the exponents of his family had no choice but to flee, taking refuge in allied territory, in Innsbruck, under the protection of the emperor Maximilian I of Habsburg. And so did our Leonardo, who headed East for Venice, stopping first in Mantua.
Under the command of Louis XII, Milan fell under French rule for a long time.
Leonardo approached a period where he wandered at various courts. First, he stayed in Venice, and after returning to his native Florence, he headed to Cesena, Pavia and Urbino at the service of the much-feared Cesare Borgia. During his trips, Da Vinci met many of the exponents of the Italian renaissance and figures of the calibre of Nicolò Macchiavelli and the much-celebrated Michelangelo. Finally, he returned to Florence, and it was here in 1503 CE that he began the masterpiece that made him world-famous, the “Mona Lisa”. He even received work from the same French king Louis XII, who learned of Leonardo’s skills, and convinced him to return to Milan, now under French rule, between 1508 and 1513 CE.
This bond with the French government laid the foundation for a final and lasting collaboration: in 1517 CE Leonardo left for France, assisted by his two faithful pupils. They accompanied him in his last years under the reign of the refined King Francis I.
On the other hand, Ludovico’s fate was later decided by an unsuccessful military campaign against his French enemies. After ups and downs that led to a few military successes, he was captured in Italy and taken prisoner in France, where he died in 1508 CE. Unfortunately, his body was never reunited in the memorial tomb with his wife, Beatrice.