Secret garden

Leonardo's Vineyard

Leonardo walked through his vineyard in Milano. He loved to take care of it himself, and he enjoyed the fruits he grew on his land. The fragrance of grapes, the taste of his wine: this was an oasis of peace and tranquillity, the colour palette of the seasons repaid him for his hard work. At the time, he had almost finished painting the Last Supper at the refectory of the nearby convent. 


For his finished works, Duke Ludovico il Moro had compensated Leonardo with a vineyard, a plot of land measuring 16 pertiche (over 8000 square metres) in the relaxing district of Porta Vercellina. This is the same area where we find the homes of his most loyal courtiers and the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, which was supposed to become his family mausoleum. For Leonardo, it was probably a nostalgic reminder of his homeland of Tuscany, where his family cultivated vineyards and produced wine. But it was also the only property he owned, an affectionate link with nature that fully made him a citizen of Milano.


When Leonardo left Milano after the French invasion, he entrusted his vineyard to people he could rely on and, when he returned to the city in 1506, he asked the authorities to return his confiscated property. When he died, he left his vineyard to his most beloved student, Giacomo Caprotti, also called “il Salai”, who went there to live.  


More than four centuries of harvests went by. In 1920, the architect Piero Portaluppi renovated the Casa degli Atellani, an elegant Renaissance-era palace, including a part of Leonardo's vineyard. Unfortunately, another war decreed the land's destiny: the vines burned during the bombings of WWII.


Nevertheless, the story was not over and the spirit of Leonardo - in his love for science and nature - returned to that same land. Not only did researchers reconstruct the original layout of the vineyard, but the soil also contained traces of the vines Leonardo cultivated: the variety was Malvasia di Candia Aromatica, which produced a sweet pleasant wine, well known in ancient times. Therefore, in 2015, for the International Expo in Milano, Leonardo obtained the second “restitution” of his vineyard, which reopened its doors to visitors along with the Casa degli Atellani.


Leonardo's Vineyard tells the story of a Milano that could travel at another speed, a city that centuries ago created occasions for music and parties in courtyards and private villas, the same city that now preserves hidden gardens, some of which are botanical gardens. It tells of a Milano filled with art enthusiasts who loved beauty, museum-homes and art collections: in the Casa degli Atellani, art collector and architect Piero Portaluppi placed elegant contemporary works that he had purchased alongside original traces of the Renaissance as elegant tributes to the past.


One afternoon is enough to walk through centuries of Milanese history, perhaps after visiting Santa Maria delle Grazie and the Refectory to see the Last Supper. It is easy to imagine the sounds of people making merry so many years ago, and the steps of Leonardo in his beloved retreat.