2019 commemorates the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci and there are many special exhibitions featuring this work. Ever since studying him in school and later at university, I have been fascinated by his work. Being interested not only in painting, but also in invention, drawing, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography, Da Vinci was a polymath or uomo universale. When we prepared our trip to Milan, I knew that seeing the Last Supper would be high on my wish list. Then I read about the special exhibit in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana which would be showing some of his civil engineering studies, which are a part of the Codex Atlanticus. Another must see was added to the list, and then my friend suggested visiting Leonardo’s Vineyard, situated across from the Santa Maria delle Grazie. The Last Supper, Santa Maria delle Grazie and the vineyard are all tied together.
Santa Maria delle Grazie, completed in 1497 is a beautiful church with magnificent paintings on the ceilings. Ludovico Sforza commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to paint a mural on a wall in the refectory of the convent. As payment for the painting of the Last Supper, da Vinci was given a vineyard across the street from the church.
To see the vineyard, one first visits the Casa degli Attelani, a renaissance house. The Attelanis lived there from 1490 until the 17th century, when the house was passed on. In 1919 the engineer and senator Ettore Conti became the owner and proceeded to make several architectural changes. The existing renaissance frescos were kept, although not all in the original spot where they were painted. The result is amazing, though.
During World War II, the area was bombed and not only the vineyard disappeared, but the refectory housing the Last Supper was damaged. Fast forward to the early 2000s. A oenologist dug around the area in the Attelani garden where he suspected the vineyard to be and sure enough found the old vines. Together with a geneticist, the genes of the grape Malvasia Aromatica were extracted and grafted onto new plants. These plants where then planted where the vineyard once was and carry the green grapes Leonardo once saw growing there. More vines were planted in Piacenza as part of the project and these now produce a small amount of wine which can be bought in the shop.