A real love story

by Ginevra Van Deflor, ph. Supersoniks©, Clos-Lucè Official Website


It goes without saying that Leonardo is world cultural heritage: among the many nations that commemorate the 500th anniversary of his death, France stands out as much as Italy. Of course, Italy was his birthplace but the Tuscan genius spent his last years in France until his death on 2nd May, 1519.

After the untimely demise of his protector, Giuliano de’ Medici, Leonardo decided to accept a long-standing invitation from the French and to move there. After all, things in Italy were no longer particularly favourable for him with a whole line of young artists steadily occupied in various courts: Raphael in the Vatican, Michelangelo in Florence and Titian in Venice.

And so off he went, lock, stock and barrel, taking along his most famous paintings such as St. John the Baptist, St. Anne and Mona Lisa. He set off on an adventurous, two-month long journey across the Alps on the back of a donkey followed by his faithful disciple Francesco Melzi, a servant and, maybe, the enigmatic Salai.

Awaiting him was a castle, that of Clos-Lucé which king François I had kept for him, a generous pension and the title of “first artist, engineer and architect” of the French kingdom.

The French had already been after him for about ten years: Charles d’Amboise, governor of the king Louis XII in Milan started in 1506 when he insisted with Florence that Leonardo remain in Milan although formally committed in the making of the fresco, the Battle of Anghiari, at Palazzo Vecchio which remained unfinished. Later there were invitations from Louis XII and these were unheeded. Finally he was conquered by Luisa di Savoia, the king’s mother who managed to win him over and to host the Florentine genius. She had been struck by the Last Supper and ordered one on tapestry, currently kept at the Vatican Museums and will be on display at the castle of Clos-Lucé for this year’s celebrations.

Francois I, from his side, was bowled over by a mechanical lion which gave out flowers, one of the futuristic marvels constructed by the inventive Tuscan, defined as the “15th century George Lucas” by the present director of the manor in the Loire. Certainly, the presence of the illustrious Italian artist was also useful to consolidate the young sovereign’s reputation but it seems that his devotion was authentic: he called him “Father” and, stricken by his death, declared “nobody was ever born to this world on a par with what Leonardo knew about painting, sculpture, architecture and who was also such a great philosopher.” The legend has it that there was actually a secret passage joining Da Vinci’s dwelling to the King’s castle at Amboise so that the two could meet as they pleased.

Such attentions at a time when Leonardo was by then an old man, probably unable to paint, surely at the final stages of his existence, were not all in vain. Thanks to these, the far-sighted French king earned fame not only with his contemporaries but also in posterity, forever linking his name to that of the Renaissance genius, making his region the destination of a cultural tourism which persists to this day. Not to mention the great stroke of luck in the purchase of some of the greatest paintings in the history of Art, at quite a huge sum of money for the time yet very well spent. Among these there was the one which is the most visited in the world: Mona Lisa. So much for those who affirm that it does not pay to invest in culture.


Le Château du Clos Lucé

2, rue du Clos Lucé, 37400 Amboise

Val de Loire – France

Tel. +33 (0) 2 47 57 00 73


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