If you’re in Milan attending to one of the events of Milan Design Week 2015, you have to enjoy some free time, experiencing the Da Vinci Trail. It is said that the most significant and greatest work of Italian genius Leonardo da Vinci was crafted during his years in Milan. From the Codex Atlanticus to The Last Supper, this walk in Milan takes you to his masterpieces and beyond.
Of all the achievements from Da Vinci’s brilliance, many say that it during his time in Milan, between the years 1482 – 1499, that his greatest works came to fruition. So, when in Milan, don’t forget to spend some time in the Da Vinci Trail.
Da Vinci came to Milan after he grew tired of Florence, feeling stifled and the need for new opportunities, leaving his work ‘The Adoration of the Magi’ unfinished and, instead, set to work on the painting ‘The Virgin of the Rocks’ for the Church of San Francesco Grande in Milan. What was originally meant to be a contract of 7 months got somewhat extended when they refused to give what he considered a fair price for the painting and he sold it to someone else in disgust. It wasn’t until some years before the confraternity persuaded him to do a second version – the one that now hangs in the National Gallery in England.
Setting this aside, this marvelous man wrote the now famous letter to the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, offering his services and recommending himself as a military inventor and engineer. He claimed that he could make bridges ‘indestructible by fire and battle’, and ‘chariots, safe and unassailable’. He also added that he was an architect, a sculptor and a painter… what a way to sell yourself, right? Well, it worked and he gained the patronage of Ludovico Sforza by the end of 1483.
In total, he spent 17-years in Milan, adhering to the desires of the Duke and casting a spell of Milan that is still present today.
The Da Vinci trail includes museums that require entry fee. Prices stated below. Advanced booking is required for The Last Supper, which you can do here.
Time required: a whole day and some patience!
The Leonardo da Vinci trail
The statue on Piazza della Scala
Piazza della Scala – Metro Duomo
To start with, you’ll begin your journey just out of reach of Milan’s famous Duomo and on the other side of one of the oldest shopping malls in world, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Here you’ll find, towering high above his four favourite students, Antonio Boltraffio, Marco d’Oggiono, Andrea Solari and Cesare da Sesto, the statue of the man himself Leonardo da Vinci, sculpted by Pietro Magni. It was erected in 1872 in honour of the multi-talented man and stands surrounded by historical buildings, including the world-renowned Teatro alla Scala opera house. Also, there are numerous reliefs dotted around the statue and his students that depict the many disciplines that da Vinci mastered during his lifetime. See which ones you can identify.
Next you want to head to Castello Sforzesca on Piazza Castello. You can get there easily by foot.
Castello Sforzesco and the Mulberry Trees
Piazza Castello – Metro Cairoli Castello or Cadorna or Lanza
Entry fee – €3 – more info
Approaching the imposing and grand Castello Sforzesco from any angle is a feast for the eyes and as you make your way into its grounds and towards the museum entrance, you’ll catch sight of towers, draw gates and, oddly enough, a local cat or two.
Here, amongst the exhibitions that explain the various rulers of Milan, how the city has developed and from knight’s armor to furniture and everyday items, you’ll be surprised to discover the amazing Sala delle Asse with a fresco painted by da Vinci. The canopy of entwined branches rises from 16 tree trunks along the walls, forming a thick overhead forest like vegetation that stretches across the ceiling and around the central coat of arms of Ludovico Sforza and his wife Beatrice d’Este. But these are not just random plants, Leonardo chose to paint a very precise type of tree, the mulberry. This plant was used to rear silkworms and silk was in fact a great economic resource for the Sforza Duchy.
Also here, you’ll find the Testa di Leda, completed after his time in Milan in 1505, and it shows a sweet, if not, pensive woman, a familiar trait of da Vinci’s portraits.
Next, make your way down Via Torino and down to Piazza Pio XI.
The Biblioteca Ambrosiana
Piazza Pio XI – Metro Duomo
Entry fee – €15 more info
A beautiful building to behold, here you will find two incredible examples of Leonardo da Vinci’s work; The Codex Atlanticus and the 1490 Portrait of a Musician.
The Codex Atlanticus consists of 1119 sheets of paper and basically contains the work and thinking of Leonardo as a scientist and an artist, spanning a time frame of 1478 – 1519, when he died in France. It contains various subjects from mechanics to studies and sketches, and from mathematics and astronomy to inventions that cover idea for parachutes and war machines. From 1968 the Codex underwent an impressive restoration work at the monastery of Grottaferrata in Lazio, during which it was bound in 12 massive volumes while maintaining the original sequence of sheets.
The 1490 Portrait of a Musician is said to have been left unfinished by Leonardo and has been greatly restored and repainted, with many thinking that the hair, red hat and tunic have been added by another painter. It is also rumoured that this is indeed a self portrait of a young da Vinci, which, if that is true, would mean it is one of only three self-portraits by Leonardo.
From here, you could take Via Sant’ Orsola to arrive at the most famous and prized Leonardo da Vinci painting in Milan, The Last Supper.
The Last Supper (of course)
Piazza di Santa Maria delle Grazie – Metro Sant’ Ambrogio
Entry fee – Advanced Booking required
With the tickets for his masterpiece as unattainable as the year’s hottest pop concert, The Last Supper really is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Hidden and protected within the walls of Santa Maria delle Grazie, a UNESCO World Heritage site, The Last Supper is found in the heavily controlled refectory of the convent.
Now a mere ghost of its former self, the power of Leonardo’s painting has thankfully been preserved, even though it actually started to mould and peel off a couple of decades after completion in 1498. As we all know, the painting represents the scene of The Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples, as it is told in the Gospel of John, 13:21. Leonardo depicts the angst that occurred among the Twelve Disciples when Jesus announced that one of them would betray him.
If it wasn’t already famous enough, its notoriety was given a reboot thanks to Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, opening it up to speculation and a new audience.
Be prepared to be wowed.
If you’re not done and still in the mood for more, there is one last stop for you to visit… and it’s free. I promise.
The Navigli and da Vinci’s lock
Corner of Via Conchetta and Via Ascanio Sforza
No Fee – Metro Porta Genova or Romolo
During the reconstruction and expansion of the Navigli, da Vinci arrived in Milan and was quick to get involved with the project. He introduced his innovative system of dams to make navigation much simpler, as well as a new system of canals that would connect Valtellina and Milan. Ludwig II il Moro also assigned Leonardo to study the system and make it possible for navigation between Lake Como and Milan. Of course, he tackled the issue with great success and, today, there is still evidence of the work he attributed to Navigli.
You can find it on the corner of Via Conchetta, where the lock proudly displays its da Vinci gates.
Other points of interest
Museo della Scienza e della Tecnologia “Leonardo da Vinci”
Entry fee – €10 – more info here.
If you still have time on your hands during your stay in Milan Design Week, there is one more important place to discover more about Leonardo da Vinci; Museo della Scienza e della Tecnologia “Leonardo da Vinci”. It is the largest science and technology museum in Italy, and is dedicated to the Italian painter and scientist, himself, Leonardo da Vinci. Here you’ll find many of Leonardo’s machines reproduced from his skilled drawings, like an hydraulic saw, a spinning machine, a means of flying and Leonardo’s famous Tank. There is much more on offer here than that of da Vinci’s work but seeing his ideas come to life gives you a real kick of excitement.
It’s been a long time since Milan become a design metropolis, and if we can say it so, Leonardo Da Vinci was their greatest designer. Don’t miss the chance to enjoy Da Vinci Trail if you’re attending to Milan Design Week 2015.