Most know Leonardo da Vinci as the consummate Renaissance man, both an engineering and artistic genius. It may surprise you to learn, however, that Italy’s famous luminary came from a long line of winemakers and was a passionate vintner, himself. So much so, in fact, that while finishing up his iconic Last Supper in Milan’s Santa Maria delle Grazie convent in 1498, his patron Ludovico Sforza buoyed his spirits by bestowing on him a small 200-by-575-foot plot of vineyard set behind the private Casa degli Atellani just opposite the convent church. Here Leonardo would retire in the evenings to putter about the vines, building pergolas and tweaking the grapes in preparation for harvest.
Di Carlo Dell’Orto – Opera propria, CC BY-SA 4.0, Collegamento
Today, after centuries of being lost to the annals of history and then decades of research to bring it back to light, you can visit Leonardo’s Vineyard (La Vigna di Leonardo), the original rectangle of land replanted with vines located behind the Atellani’s Renaissance villa, one of the few still standing in this area of Milan.
The History and Rediscovery
When Leonardo was 46 and completing what was to become on of his most famous works, the Duke of Milan granted him a small vineyard behind what is now Corso Magenta, n. 65. In addition to satisfying his passion for cultivating grapes, Leonardo hoped land ownership might help his claim to Milanese citizenship. In 1500, Leonardo is forced toabondon his vineyard and flee Milan ahead of the arrival of French troops, and his land is confiscated. He is eventually able to reclaim his beloved vineyard, and left it to one of his servants and to the father of a student when he died. The land passed through various hands over the centuries, and the origins of the vineyard were eventually forgotten.
In the 1920s, the owners of the land commissioned Leonardo da Vinci scholar Luca Beltrami to research its history, and Beltrami was able trace the vineyard in Renaissance documents. He also, luckily, photographed the vines that were still growing up wooden pergolas (probably designed by Leonardo himself), all of which were lost over the following decades due to fire and bombing during World War II.
With the help of a wine geneticist who performed DNA testing on the roots of the original vines, the land’s current owners were able replant the vineyard with the same malvasia di candia aromatica white grapes that grew here in Leonardo’s time, and opened the plot to the public in 2015.
Visiting Leonardo’s Vineyard
Though the vines are not yet producing wine, you can visit flourishing vineyard (and the adjacent Renaissance villa and grounds) after visiting his famous The Last Supper to discover another side of the artist. Tours are available daily with an audio guide, and on Saturday and Sundays with a live guide. Casa degli Atellani also has a small bistrot that serves breakfast and lunch, and a shop selling wines produced on the Luzzano Castle estate, once belonging to the same Atellani family.