Opposite Santa Maria della Grazie, Milan – in whose refectory Leonardo painted The Last Supper – stands Case degli Atellani, where the artist owned a vineyard to which he was particularly attached.
The building itself dates from the end of the fifteenth century. Constructed at the behest of Ludovico il Moro, it was part of a residential area for his faithful courtiers and was intended to house the Alellani family. Nowadays it is divided into two parts: the older part still maintains most of the original appearance, while the newer part was reconstructed after being badly damaged in the bombing raids of August 1943.
Leonardo’s vineyard covered 8,320 square metres within the space now occupied by the palazzo’s enclosed garden: as a document dated 26 April 1499 reveals, it was the gift of II Moro himself in recognition of the artist’s services. Leonardo was very attached to this property – in part because he hoped ownership would guarantee him the status of a citizen of Milan. In spite of his peregrinations, he kept himself regularly informed about the property and even made some sketches of it. He is known to have visited the property in 1508, when it was returned to him after initial confiscation by the King of France following the fall of Ludovico. Finally, in the will he drew up on 23 April 1519, Leonardo mentions not only his famous works of art, but also the vineyard, leaving half each to his faithful servants Giovan Batista de’Vilanis and Salaj (the latter built himself a home there).
IN spite of numerous changes to the surrounding urban fabric, the vineyard remained miraculously intact for centuries. Art historian Luca Beltrami was amazed when he visited it in 1920, managing to take a few snapshots just before it was bulldozed to make way for new housing. The architect Portaluppi, who oversaw the restoration of Case degli Atellani in the 1920s wanted to preserve in the garden “a tree-filled rectangle of ground where, defying the passage of time, there is still a pergola of vines, the remnants of Leonardo’s vineyard”. However, a fire in a painter’s studio reduced those remnants to ashes.
The garden in which the last traces of Leonardo’s vineyards survived until so recently is now private. However, from the street you can glace through the fine porticoed courtyard and see some of what remains of the old house.
(Adapted from Secret Milan by Massimo Polidoro, published by JonGlez)