Five hundred years ago, on May 2, 1519 in Amboise, in the Loire Valley, Leonardo da Vinci died. There is a legend that he breathed his last in the arms of his 24-year-old patron, Francois I. In fact, the French king was at least a day’s ride away at the time. Leonardo probably died in the bedroom of his grace and favour chateau Clos Luce, before burial in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert in the grounds of the royal Chateau d’Amboise.
He had met the glamorous young Francois three years earlier in Rome and had been tempted across the Alps by the offer of a huge pension and the patronage of the new king. That’s the reason the Mona Lisa and several more of his paintings are in France – Leonardo carried them north with him, stuffed in a saddlebag.
He did very little painting after that, however, involving himself instead in architectural and engineering projects. Some failed — such as an attempt to drain the marshes of the Sologne, but many think he was responsible for the design or at least the concept behind the chateau at Chambord — the most impressive and complex in the Loire. The central staircase is a double helix formed of two intertwining stairs that allow you to go up one flight and come back down the other. He also became party planner in chief, designing at least four spectacular events and processions for Francois’ entertainment.
Not surprisingly then, the Loire is launching a major celebration of the anniversary and (unless you count Chambord) not having any Leonardos of its own, it is broadening the theme to celebrate 500 years.
Other museums and galleries around Europe are also celebrating Leonardo’s legacy, and 2019 will see some of the most impressive exhibitions of his paintings and notebooks to be staged since the seminal show at the National Gallery in London in 2011. The foremost will probably be the exhibition at Louvre, which opens in October and is expected to include the most comprehensive exhibition of his work ever displayed.
To help you plan, here is a chronological run down of the most important. Note that some details are as yet unconfirmed, and some may change. So double check the relevant website before booking any travel arrangements. And, where possible, order tickets well in advance — all the exhibitions are likely to be extremely popular.
Clos Luce, Amboise
The Chateau de Clos Luce, the small chateau that was Leonardo’s home in the Loire, will host a special show (June 1-September 2) based on the monumental tapestry of The Last Supper. The exhibition will feature around 30 pieces. vinci-closluce.com.
This celebration is predicated on the anniversary of Leonardo’s death and the beginning of the building of the Chateau du Chambord. loirevalley-france.co.uk.
The Louvre owns five of the 15 paintings generally accepted to be by Leonardo. From October 24, 2019 until February 24, 2020. louvre.fr
Florence and Vinci
The scientific Museo Galileo is planning an exhibition on Leonardo and his books, due to open in April (museogalileo.it). And from March 9 to July 14, the Strozzi Palace (palazzostrozzi.org) celebrates with Verrocchio, Master of Leonardo, a major exhibition. In Leonardo’s birthplace, Vinci, the Museo Leonardiano is planning an exhibition (April-June 2019). museoleonardiano.it.
The Gallerie dell’Accademia is home to his famous work, The Vitruvian Man. It will be on public display for the first time in many years at Gallerie dell’Accademia (gallerieaccademia.it).
The Queen owns the most important single collection of Leonardo’s notebooks — including more than 500 drawings acquired by Charles II. Full details on the Royal Collection Trust website (rct.uk).
The Sunday Telegraph