Leonardo da Vinci bequeathed us two anecdotes concerning his childhood: ostensibly memories, it has been argued that they might be parables or accounts of dreams.
|Bird-winged apparatus with partly rigid wings, 1488-90, pen and ink. Bibliothèque de l'Institut de France|
His fascination would appear to have originated in his earliest childhood. These words were written in a corner of one of his notes on birds and the mechanisms of flight:
Questo scrivere si distintamente del nibbio par che sia mio destino perche' nella prima ricordatione della mia infantia e' mi parea che essendo io in culla che un nibbio venissi a me/e mi aprissi la bocha cholla sua coda e molte volte mi percotessi con tal coda dentro alle labbra.
(Atlantic Codex f.186 verso)
"This writing so specifically about a kite would appear my destiny because in the first memory of my infancy I seem to have been in the cradle when a kite came and opened my mouth with its tail and hit my lips many times with its tail."
|study of a child circa 1508|
Nacque un mio nipote, figliolo di ser Piero mio figliolo a dì 15 aprile in sabato a ore 3 di notte [attuali 22.30]. Ebbe nome Lionardo. Battizzollo prete Piero di Bartolomeo da Vinci, in presenza di Papino di Nanni, Meo di Tonino, Pier di Malvolto, Nanni di Venzo, Arigo di Giovanni Tedesco, monna Lisa di Domenico di Brettone, monna Antonia di Giuliano, monna Niccolosa del Barna, monna Maria, figlia di Nanni di Venzo, monna Pippa di Previcone.
On Saturday April 15  at three o'clock in the morning my grandson was born, son of ser Piero my son. He was called Lionardo. Piero di Bartolomeo priest of Vinci baptized him in the presence of ...[see above].
NB: the parents are absent, since they were not married.
|the font at which Leonardo was baptized|
|the farmhouse at Anchiano, restored with loving care|
|Was this the fireplace where he warmed his tiny toes? The presence of a family crest and this style of fireplace seems somewhat anomalous in what ought to have been a farmhouse belonging to peasants, but it must post-date Leonardo.|
|Was this the oven where his mother baked little Leonardo's bread? Now doubling up as a post box shelter|
|the aia or threshing floor|
|view south-east from the farmhouse|
|detail, Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, 1510, oil on wood, Louvre, Paris|
|study of the head of a soldier for Battle of Anghiari, 1503-4, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest|
|Virgin and Child with Saints Anne and John the Baptist, 1499-1500/1506-8 charcoal and chalk on paper mounted on canvas, National Gallery London|
|newly-discovered possible self-portrait of Leonardo, previously overlaid by closely-spaced writing, in the codex on the flight of birds; he would appear to be in his 40s|
|Andrea del Verrocchio's Baptism of Christ, 1472-1475, Uffizi Florence. The angel on the left, much of the background landscape and perhaps the figure of Christ are ascribed to Leonardo|
|Leonardo's notes in his singular 'mirror-writing' script from Madrid Codex 1492-97, Madrid National Library|
|Geometrical study on transformation from rectilinear to curved surfaces and vice versa from Atlantic Codex, folio 423 verso, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan|
|pietra serena stone installation, which rises and falls in the main square, something of a hazard to pedestrians, but interesting enough; the church behind is Santa Croce where Leonardo was baptized|
|reconstruction of slewing crane design which allows for a rotation of the load|
|reconstruction of automatic gold-beating machine for silk industry|
|display of gold-leaf, gold thread and silk embroidered with gold and the tools of the trade|
There are reconstructions of some of his inventions and clear explanations of the background and their uses in several languages. Digital presentations are available to explore further and there are some well-produced animations throughout this small museum. A shop at the entrance displays a good selection of books and journals both academic and not, regarding Leonardo's scientific, engineering and technical inventions and studies.
|Castello dei Guidi where the larger Leonardo museum is housed|
|the hall dedicated to Leonardo's work on flight with his magnificent life-sized ornithopter suspended above|
|a working model in 1:2 scale of the crane designed by Brunelleschi for the construction of the cupola of the Duomo of Florence|
|detail from Annunciation, by da Vinci and Verrocchio, 1472-1475, Uffizi, Florence;seen from in front there are several notable distortions (eg; the end of the wall, the position of the lectern in relation to Mary, her contorted right arm)|
|Seen from a 45 degree angle, the distortions disappear|
|the view from Vinci's castle looking west towards the snow-topped Apuan Alps|
|Study of a Tuscan Landscape, Valley of the Arno, 1473, Uffizi Florence, pen and ink|
|portrait of Leonardo da Vinci after 1510, when he was in his sixties by his pupil, companion and principal heir, Francesco Melzi|
Some of the harsh truth about getting to Vinci:
Vinci is roughly one hour and twenty minutes northwest of Le Ripe, tucked in the triangle formed by the Firenze-Pisa freeway and the Firenze-Pisa motorway. The route through Chianti is superb, affording excellent views, past cypress colonnades, farmhouses and villas perched on hills, the ordered bands of vineyards, smoky green olives; an occasional almond tree already in pale pink bloom, even some bright mimosas.
But the descent into the Arno valley is like a descent into a cultural and natural wasteland. Block upon block of desolate factories, ugly warehouses and wholesale stores, tawdry signs, anonymous cement homes. Italy is schizophrenic: where did the beauty go to? Of course beauty depends on industry and hard work, but certainly aesthetics and good taste were not the criteria when such industrial/commercial areas were created. Leonardo would have been shocked, particularly since a large part of his working life was dedicated to the advancement of manufacture and industry as much as to aesthetics.
Fortunately the pilgrim leaves behind this soulless setting after passing through the outskirts of Vinci which is worryingly close to all that (we know how ugliness encroaches) and climbing about 100 metres to the historic centre of the tiny town.
One can park to the east of the old town, outside the city walls overlooking a deep valley which rises on the far side towards the hills of Montalbano. Steps lead up to the two buildings which house the museums dedicated to Vinci's famous son.
The museums and the farmhouse at Anchiano are all worth a visit: an 8 euro ticket covers everything.
The Museo Ideale Leonardo da Vinci (closed at present because of problems with water leakage) sounds an interesting destination, a lively art-meets-science display thanks to the participation of artists and researchers.
See here for news about its reopening
There is also an excellent library, the Biblioteca Leonardiana, a research centre for documents and publications of and about Leonardo which houses a complete archive of reproductions of his writings and drawings.
The distance from Vinci to Anchiano is about 2 kilometers. There is a pleasant trail path leading up through the olive groves to the hamlet which departs from just outside Vinci.
|the road to Anchiano|
|view from Anchiano|
*An interesting little book on the subject has been written by Giuseppe Pallanti: Monna Lisa mulier ingenua, Ed Polistampa, 2004