Visit Leonardo da Vinci vineyard in Milan, incredibly still there after five centuries.


This story starts in a day of January, 1920.

A gentlemen is walking in the surroundings of Santa Maria delle Grazie church in Milan. He’s carrying a bag and looks into the the construction sites of the new district. Suddenly he looks excited, extracts from the bag a strange machine and points it towards the workers who are cutting the trees to liberate the ground for the new buildings.

The man is Luca Beltrami, the most important expert on Leonardo da Vinci. The strange equipment he’s got is a camera. Beltrami is searching for the lost da Vinci vineyard: Leonardo, while painting and projecting inventions, apparently also made wine. The scholar deduced the location of the vineyard from historical documents. In that cold day he finally finds it. Exactly where it is supposed to be.

Beltrami stops a while. He imagines Leonardo da Vinci visiting his vines after a day of work at the Last Supper, just a few meters away.

Leonardo came from a family of wine makers. He got the vineyard as a present from Ludovico il Moro, duke of Milan.

da Vinci vineyard

The vineyard was very important to him. He wrote some notes about its size in the Atlantic Codex:

cento braccia di largeza e 294 di lunghezza son 15 pertiche e ¾” .

It’s a rectangle of about 52 per 160 metres.

Moreover, Leonardo wanted it back when it was confiscated by French who conquered Milan. It’s the only property, together with a fund in Vinci, Tuscany, he mentioned in his will. After his death he left half of it to Salaj, one of the favorite apprentices in Leonardo’s atelier.

Salaj was beautiful and modeled for some Leonardo paintings. There are legends telling that he was the real model of Mona Lisa. He died rich, too rich to be a not-so-famous painter. His mysterious life deserves to be told, but it’s another story.

What we can say is that Leonardo left the property to someone he was very fond of and who lived in a house on that ground. Another proof that for some reason Leonardo loved that vineyard very much.

Beltrami is able to photograph da Vinci vineyard just before it disappeares to leave room to the growing city.

Not so far away, another elegant men is visiting the construction site of his new house.

He’s Ettore Conti, entrepreneur and senator of the Italian reign. In 1919 he bought an ancient house in Corso Magenta and gave to his son in law, an architect, the task to restore it.

You might don’t know how lucky we are having these people involved in this story. The son in law of Conti is Piero Portaluppi, who will became one of the most influential 20th century Italian architects. Conti’s house, that his wife with concern describes as a hovel, is Casa degli Atellani, one of the few Renaissance buildings survived in the “Grazie” district in Milan. Ludovico il Moro gave it to his faithful courtesans, the Atellani family. The project of Ludovico was to transform the area around the “Grazie” church in an elegant district in which to install his court. No surprise he gave a lot in this area to Leonardo da Vinci, his most famous courtier.

Luca Beltrami, relieved, writes that part of the vineyard would be preserved since it will be incorporated in the garden of Atellani house, that Senator Conti is privately renovating.

In the meantime, Portaluppi’s work is revealing frescoes, painting, a portico and columns.

da VInci VineyardNot that he’s just simply renovating the ancient house. Don’t forget he’s working to the private house of a powerful entrepreneur and politician, who is by chance also his father in law. Would you do what you want?

The Atellani house is actually deeply modified. Luckily, Portaluppi is a master of a mimetic style in which ancient, fake-ancient and new styles are naturally mixed.

If you visit the Atellani house, you will see an example of it in the Zodiac Hall. Some paintings in the hall are originals from 16th century, inspired by seasons and zodiac, a theme on fashion at that time. Portaluppi completed it with fake ancient decorations: the astrolabes, the hourglasses, a mosaic floor with drawings of planets were actually built on Portaluppi project. He also draws a line representing the wall he demolished to widen the room. But the story is not finished.

da Vinci vineyard 2On 16th August 1943 Milan woke up with terrible news. Bombardments destroyed Santa Maria delle Grazie church. Last Supper miraculously survived to its vault’s collapse, just protected by a layer of sand bags. There’s a scene in the movie The Monuments Men reminding it (click play). Atellani house was also damaged and Leonardo da Vinci vineyard buried under the ruins.

Don’t worry: the story doesn’t end here!

Atellani house was rebuilt in 1946-1952, on a project of Piero Portaluppi himself. In the meantime, the status of national monument was attributed to the building.

But da Vinci vineyard? Was it definitely lost? The nephews of Portaluppi, who inherited the house, reminded what their grandmother said: the last vines were burned in a fire started in a painter’s studio in the neighborhood. But again that’s not the end.

Have you seen Jurassic Park? 

Well, not exactly the same, but science has a role. Scientist of Milan University analyzed some organic samples found in the place where da Vinci vineyard was located and were able to obtain the full genetic profile of the grape variety. They compared it to varieties already grown at that time and here it is: Malvasia di Candia Aromatica!

I’m sure Leonardo himself would have loved to work on this project. Wasn’t he a scientist? Wasn’t he a winemaker?

New vines of Malvasia di Candia grown by Agriculture department of Milan University were planted in 2015 in a corner of the garden. And there it is, Leonardo da Vici vineyard. Exactly where it was for centuries. I can’t wait to taste this wine when it’s ready.

da Vinci vineyard

The site is now a pleasent museum you can visit, check the official website.

Informations in this post are taken, other than to my personal visit to Leonardo da Vinci Vineyard and casa degli Atellani museum, to the book by Jacopo Ghilardotti  “La casa degli Atellani e la vigna di Leonardo” (Ed. Rai-ERI).

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