How did Leonardo spend the last three years of his life in Amboise? What the famous painter did not do was paint. A slight stroke left his good hand, his painting left hand, mildly paralysed. The consensus is that the strange, disturbing painting of an androgynous Saint John the Baptist, who looks like Mona Lisa’s evil love child, with his finger pointing in the air was his last. He is thought to have finished it just before he left Italy for Amboise. Instead, he taught. Leonardo had always had students, one, Melzi, his right hand man, was so devoted to him he stayed until The Master died. The King asked Leonardo to teach his Court Painters. When they went to Clos Lucé they would have studied the three masterpieces Leonardo brought with him from Italy However, far from taking it easy, he was very active. To begin with, as we have said, he was a tourist attraction so a constant stream of visitors kept him busy. He was a writer, compiling years of compulsive note taking. He was an impresario, responsible for creating elaborate Court celebrations. In 1518 at Château Amboise he masterminded a pageant to celebrate the baptism of the King’s son, François, one to commemorate the King’s victory at the Battle of Marignano in Italy and one at Clos Lucé to publicly thank François for his kindness and generosity. He was also probably behind the astonishing mock battle in the town in April 1518. Six hundred men led by François defended a model town against six hundred men led by the duke of Bourbon. It was so like real warfare that some participants were killed. He was also a town planner. In 1517 the King decided to move his capital from Paris to Romorantin and asked Leonardo to plan a new town. Old Romorantin belonged to his mother, Louise of Savoy. Romorantin Château, less than fifty miles from Amboise, was, of all her many homes, her favourite. For the next two years Leonardo’s energies were channelled into plans which covered seven hundred pages. He was also an architect. François wanted a new château for his mother and a state of the art one for himself. Leonardo’s design for the Queen Mother’s Château is in Windsor Castle Library, England. He designed palace entrance doors which would open and close automatically when approached using sophisticated balance and pressure points on a crank mechanism system. Like so many of Leonardo’s projects, the new town never saw the light of day but this time it was through no fault of his. August 1518 was exceptionally hot, Romorantin became infested with the malarial mosquito. A hundred and fifty died in one week. Entire families were wiped out. Half the population, close to panic, fearing Plague, moved away. The King, whose low boredom threshold equalled that of Leonardo’s, turned his attention to his next pet project, rebuilding Château Chambord. He turned to Leonardo for his input. Leonardo told him the foundations had to be strong enough to withstand the frequent flooding of the Cher. Good advice. Chambord to this day often has water up to its knees. It’s commonly believed that Leonardo designed the Château’s astonishing double helix staircase.
Read more about Leonardo da Vinci and his connection with the Loire Valley in Leonardo da Vinci: The Amboise Connection (available from Amazon).
The book was written to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death in 1519 at Clos Lucé, Amboise, where he spent the last three years of his life.
Post by Pamela
Visit St Hubert’s Chapel, Royal Chateau of Amboise and Château Clos Lucé on a Photograph France photography tour or workshop Click here for more information.