If the Pope had been kind to Leonardo, Italy would own Leonardo’s Mona Lisa but he insulted this gentle, sensitive, proud, man. If the Pope had acknowledged his worth, Leonardo would never have left his native land to die in a foreign country. Three Kings of France, Charles VIII, Louis XII and François I revered him. France deserves the most famous painting in the world but why, knowing that François loved it so much, did Leonardo leave the Mona Lisa to Salai, his unworthy, disreputable protegé? Two reasons. Leonardo felt responsible for him from the day he took him in off the streets when Salai was a boy. He wanted to leave him well off. Two, Kings don’t barter. Leonardo knew that Salai could sell the paintings to an intermediary of the King. Salai died as he lived. In 1524 he died in a street fight. His estate is said to have included the Mona Lisa, St. Anne with the Virgin and Saint and John the Baptist, the paintings Leonardo had with him in Clos Lucé. François loved the masterpieces. He wanted them for the art collection he was building. Leonardo probably gave them to Salai asking that he sell to an intermediary of the King. He didn’t, but his sisters, who in inherited his estate, did, A receipt exists signed by Florimond Robertet, Treasurer to the King: ‘Messier Salai de Petredorain, painter, for some paintings that he gave to the King, two thousand six hundred and four lire, four sols, and four deniers’. The Mona Lisa was in the private apartments of François at Fontainebleau in 1540. All three paintings, much to the chagrin of Italy, are in the Louvre in Paris. Italy has always wanted the Mona Lisa. During WWII, Mussolini begged Hitler to give it to him when the Germans took Paris. Luckily for France, Hitler was contemptuous of Mussolini. Although Leonardo’s peers admired the Mona Lisa, the world was not aware of it until 1911 when its theft from the Louvre in Paris was splashed over every newspaper. The man who stole it was an Italian handyman. Vincenzo Peruggia was employed by the Louvre to put glass into picture frames. He hid overnight in a cupboard in the museum. In the morning, before the gallery opened, he slipped out with the painting under a blanket. World wide publicity meant the Mona Lisa spent the next two years in the false bottom of Peruggia’s trunk at his digs in Paris until he decided to return home and go to Florence where Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa. He took it to an art dealer who asked Peruggia to leave the painting with him so that he could examine it and assess its worth. Instead he consulted an expert in Italian painting who called the police. Peruggia was arrested. At his trial he said he was a patriot. He said he thought Mona Lisa had been stolen by Napoleon and wanted to bring the painting back home. He was given a short sentence of eight months in prison. The Mona Lisa was returned to the Louvre.
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.