Lifestyle

500 YEARS OF DA VINCI

By Catherine Simone-Marion

The Mona Lisa traces back herself to her artist Leonardo da Vinci’s life at Château du Clos Lucé in France. When Leonardo agreed to be the King’s appointed first painter, he set in motion an architectural and artistic legacy that will be cherished for centuries to come

In the autumn of 1516, King Francis I of France invited Leonardo da Vinci, artist, eccentric inventor and sculptor to take up residence at Château du Clos Lucé. Leaving Italy behind, Leonardo got himself appointed as ‘first painter, engineer and architect to the King’. He served the monarch with his talents, working on numerous projects and imagining plans for an ‘ideal’ château for the King.

For the last three years of his life, da Vinci dedicated himself to this state-of-the-art residence. Prolific and always looking to perfect his techniques, he donned many hats for the monarch’s court - engineer, architect, theatre director and organiser of lavish festivities. Living just 400 metres away from the Château, da Vinci worked tirelessly on drawing up a modern, ideal French château for King Francis I.

He envisioned and drew double helix open staircases, intricate and heavy carvings, stunning paintings and sprawling laws. Today, as we celebrate 500 years of the genius, the ideal château is dedicated to celebrating the knowledge he gained there and the Italian genius that was Leonardo da Vinci.

For nearly two centuries, the château has been owned by the Saint Bris family. It proudly displays 40 of da Vinci’s fabulous inventions that are a true testament to da Vinci’s intuitive grasp over a wide range of subjects.

At the age of 64, da Vinci crossed the Alps on mule-back with some of his disciples to be here. He took along all his notebooks and sketches capturing the richness of his oeuvre. He also brought along four of his paintings- Saint Anne, the Virgin and Child, Saint John the Baptist and the ever-so-famous Mona Lisa. An account by the Secretary to the Cardinal of Aragon from that glorious era expresses vividly how surreal the experience of actually seeing “this painting of a Florentine woman” (Mona Lisa) was and definitely provides an insight to the kind of emotions Leonardo da Vinci was capable of evoking in people.

Today, da Vinci’s spirit lives on in Château du Clos Lucé. Following the visionary’s footsteps, explore the landscaped trails that introduce visitors to sources of his inspiration. There are 20 hands-on, life size machines and 40 giant hangings featuring his paintings.

An absolutely unique feat, though, for Château du Clos Lucé are the on-premises botanical drawings by the artist; there are also geological and hydrodynamic studies and landscape compositions and a double-decker bridge designed by the maestro. For anyone who wants to further understand his inventions, there are six 3D animated sequences on display as well.

The Château houses two permanent exhibitions that are a fine tribute to Leonardo da Vinci’s expertise. One of the exhibitions - Leonardo da Vinci, Engineer displays 50 models that were built inspired from his designs. The models are a testament to da Vinci’s engineering talents in fields like aeronautics, industrial machinery, marine engineering, architecture and more. Not just a mere artist and engineer, da Vinci was a curious and indefatigable observer of nature. His curiosity pushed him to seek inspiration in the books he read, in the research carried out by the engineers of Siena and in a tradition of science and technology dating back to the Middle Ages. The inspiration that he found, Leonardo systematised, innovating and giving birth to these 50 models.

The other exhibition - Leonardo da Vinci and France is all about the artist’s 10-year relationship with three kings of France. It presents the result of the studies, work and research that he undertook during the years 1507 to 1513. This permanent exhibition gives a chance to get an inside peek into da Vinci’s research and the period of his life that he spent in France. The special connection that da Vinci had with the country, supported by three kings - Charles VIII, Louis XII, and Francis I, was one of the major contributors to the Renaissance period’s introduction to the Loire Valley.

In 2013, Château added new unique items to their exhibitions and collections. The place of pride in the new additions was taken by a mechanical interpretation of the Lion Automaton built from Leonardo’s manuscripts. The magnificent piece took over 3,000 hours to build and comprises of mechanical parts made of iron, wrought in a forge, cut up with a saw and shaped with a file. An antique edition of Leonardo da Vinci’s Treatise on Painting, is also housed here now.

From what legacy Leonardo left behind, today visitors to Château du Clos Lucé can see his living quarters, 400 metres away, the Council Chamber, the chapel that features frescoes painted by his disciples and 40 of da Vinci’s inventions in

Gallery.

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