This month one of Da Vinci’s celebrated works, The Adoration of the Magi is returning to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence after 6 years of restoration. It’s a big event in the art world, precisely because Leonardo was so much more than just an artist
Leonardo has been called a “universal genius” by scholars, the perfect example of Renaissance man. He was a scientist, an inventor, an artist, an architect and an engineer. His prolific output has left us with everything from timeless frescoes like The Last Supper to the first designs for flying machines. To satisfy our curiosity we're going on a three-stop journey through Italy to find out more about the man behind the myth, and the remarkable legacy he left behind.
First stop: Vinci. Vinci is a town near Florence in Tuscany where Leonardo was born, the name da Vinci literally meaning ‘from Vinci’. This small hilltop town is justly proud of its most famous son and has dedicated a museum to him: the Museo Leonardiano. Here there are many working models of his inventions on display, all taken from his notes and drawings. The effect is impressive and walking around the town where he was born is an experience in itself. The are other museums dedicated to the artist too - in Florence, Rome, Milan and Venice, all of which give the enthusiast plenty of opportunity to explore his life and work.
Florence is our next destination. Here, as a teenager, Leonardo did his apprenticeship in the studio of Verrocchio, a renowned sculptor and painter. Vasari writes that his master saw Leonardo’s extraordinary abilities a painter, he abandoned his own paintbrush. The early paintings of Leonardo can be seen at the Uffizi in Florence.
Among those is the Adoration of the Magi that returns to the Uffizi this month. This painting makes clear just how ahead of his time Da Vinci was. It’s a large and impressive work, that uses a technique known as the ‘sfumato’. One that was then copied by artists all over Europe. Fumo means smoke in Italian, and Vinci described sfumato as being "without lines or borders, in the manner of smoke or beyond the focus plane”. This was the technique Da Vinci went on to use when he painted the Mona Lisa.
Leonardo left this work unfinished when he set off for Milan in 1482. And this is our third stop, because it was in Milan that he frescoed the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie Convent with one of his most famous works: The Last Supper.
This is a work that needs no introduction. One that’s so well known it has become part of our collective imagination, and has often been referenced in popular culture, including Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code. This magnificent fresco features Christ at its centre surrounded by the apostles who are reacting to Jesus’s announcement that one of them would eventually betray him. The fresco is nothing short of awe-inspiring and can be viewed by the public, though you’ll need to book well in advance.
Of course we couldn’t talk about Da Vinci without mentioning his famous portrait La Gioconda, or The Mona Lisa. Although it’s now at The Louvre, it’s very likely that the model herself was a Florentine woman called Lisa del Giocondo. And the landscape painted in the background is identified by many experts as being an area close to Arezzo in Tuscany.
You can find out more about The Adoration of the Magi, and the other masterpieces at the
Ben Carson and Sabrina Nesi are both travel writers based in Florence, and co-founders of the website lovefromtuscany.com, an insider’s travel guide to Tuscany. Here they share their knowledge, and pour out all their passion for the art, culture, lifestyle and food of the region. They’re always looking for new stories to tell and hidden corners to explore. You can connect with them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and read their blog at lovefromtuscany.com/blog