Going to the Château du Clos Lucé in Amboise is an immersive journey into the heart of the works of the greatest genius of the Renaissance!
At Cloc Lucé, we immerse ourselves in the work of Leonardo da Vinci
While celebrating the 500th anniversary of his disappearance in 2019, the Clos Lucé has become the most visited castle of the Loire castles after Chambord and Chenonceau. Because, here everything is under the sign of the painter of the Mona Lisa, universally known; this genius architect who touched everything (civil, military, religious to the ephemeral); this pioneering urban planner; this outstanding mathematician; of this inventor-engineer who knew how to create the machines of tomorrow… and, of this old man with intact talents whom a very young king persuaded to leave Italy and Rome for the banks of the Loire!
The Château du Clos Lucé, 800 years of history including 3 years transcended by the presence of Leonardo da Vinci
The Genius and the Young King
The Clos Lucé is the castle resulting from the friendship between François 1st, one of the most powerful monarchs of his time and Leonardo da Vinci, the greatest artist of the Renaissance. After years of wandering, Leonardo da Vinci arrived in Amboise in 1516. He is 64 years old. He is accompanied by some students (his favorites)* and his servant, Battista de Vilanis aged 24. Francis 1st had met him shortly after the Battle of Marignan in 1515, in Bologna, in the presence of Pope Leo X. He was immediately seduced by this immense artist and this visionary scholar. But what drove such a genius to leave Rome for the banks of the Loire?
*And among them, the very talented Francesco Melzi (1491-1570) who will inherit part of the property of his master including the precious manuscripts.
The mysterious Florentine lady on the back of a mule
The 1000 gold ecus of annual pension allocated to him by the king are certainly not the reason for his coming. Wouldn’t it be rather the charm of this young and seductive monarch (he was nearly two meters tall), in love with great architectural projects, who tempted him. Italy was abandoning him. He was, however, the protégé of Julian de’ Medici, brother of the pope. But all eyes were already on two rising glories, Raphael and Michelangelo. And then, the court of the young sovereign in Amboise lived in Italian time. We could brush shoulders with the likes of Dominic of Cortona, known as Le Boccador, Fra Giocondo, Dom Pacello and later Le Primatice or Benvenuto Cellini.
“Here Leonardo, you will be free to dream, think and work” François 1st.
In Amboise he was welcomed by the king, alongside his mother, Louise of Savoy. Francis 1st was, it is said, very moved and hugged him. He immediately named him “first painter, first engineer and first architect of the king”. He had reserved for him Le Cloux (now the Clos Lucé), a charming manor house a few steps from his castle of Amboise. From Italy, Leonardo da Vinci had brought only three paintings, his favorites. They were placed in leather saddlebags and transported on mules to Amboise. Among these paintings*, a mysterious Florentine lady, known today as the Mona Lisa. There was there, said Antonio de Béatis, the secretary of the Cardinal of Aragon, the painting of a lady of Florence, naturally painted by order of the late Julian de’ Medici. It will be acquired by Francis I at the death of the painter.
*Including Saint John the Baptist and Saint Anne.
A genius architect
At the Clos Lucé, Leonardo da Vinci, although pierced with rheumatism, was very active: he painted little, prevented by paralysis of the right arm, but rather directed the hand of his students. A genius architect, he drew up a sketch of a plan for Chambord and, without certainty, his double revolution staircase*. He designed a kind of ideal castle, with telephony, water alley, pier, doors closing alone. It even provides for removable houses for the courtyard. In his archives were found architectural projects for the castle of the Queen Mother in Romorantin, in Sologne.
* This famous double revolution staircase becomes the axis of a castle where you can cross sides without ever meeting.
A brilliant “metteur en scène” (director)
He amazes the court with magical illuminations and bold drawings of flying machines. Thus this nocturnal fairy of June 17, 1518: transposing part of the ideas of staging used during the feast of Paradise, given in honor of the king and his court, he simulates, in the night and in the open sky, the starry celestial vault traversed by the movement of the stars. For another feast, hadn’t he set up a lion-shaped automaton that let out fleurs-de-lys from his mouth when one knocked on his chest?
The king was not there!
This year 1519, the Loire froze, and the ice carried by the river carried away the bridge of Amboise. Contrary to what legend says, or as Ingres’ painting may suggest, François 1st did not hold his head as he drew his last breath. Because he was then at the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye to celebrate the birth of his second son, the future Henri II*. But the news affected him. He cried. Leonardo da Vinci was buried according to his last wishes in the collegiate church of Saint-Florentin (destroyed in 1807), within the walls of the castle of Amboise. His remains were, also at his request, escorted by a procession of beggars.
*Henry II, second son of Claude of France and François 1st was born on March 31, 1519 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, a month before the death of Leonardo da Vinci.
No being goes to nothingness
Leonardo da Vinci died at the age of 67 in his manor of Cloux on May 2, 1519. He had received extreme anointing. His will had been drawn up. He gave his manuscripts and instruments to his favorite pupil, Francesco Melzi, the custodian of the will. An incredible legacy of nearly 50,000 documents, original notebooks including the famous human anatomy sheets – many of which were encrypted. As for his property and his vineyard, they went to his servants, his land to his brothers to his servant Mathurine*, who was not forgotten. He bequeathed her his coat of beautiful black cloth trimmed with leather.
*Mathurine was his cook and Leonardo was a vegetarian. For him, “sobriety, healthy eating and good sleep keep you healthy”
Requiem (not) in peace
His grave was desecrated and destroyed during the Wars of Religion. During excavations undertaken in the mid-nineteenth century, his remains (presumed!) were exhumed, which were rehumed in 1874 in the right transept of the Saint-Hubert chapel. But during World War II, the Nazi authorities wanted to return his remains to Mussolini’s Italy. Fortunately, they had been removed and hidden by a guardian of the castle. In 2010, Italian researchers wanted to exhume his remains to carry out a facial reconstruction of the painter and find out if the portrait of Mona Lisa was not simply a disguised self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci …
In this immersive show, the verses of the poet Charles Baudelaire (Les Phares) resonate: Léonard de Vinci, miroir profond et sombre,/Où des anges charmants, avec un doux souris/Tout chargé de mystère, apparaissent à l’ombre/Des glaciers et des pins qui ferment leur pays. Les Fleurs du mal (Photo FC)
The Château du Clos Lucé before Leonardo da Vinci
A mansion that became a royal residence. In the Middle Ages, the estate belonged to the Amboise family who erected a first construction on the site of the current residence. The estate was then ceded to the nuns of the female monastery under the Cistercian Order of Moncé (in Limeray near Amboise). This manor of Cloux*, of pink bricks and white stones, was built in 1477 for Étienne Le Loup, butler of Louis XI (in fact an old marmiton, a “tournebroche” with a hanging tongue that had been ennobled by the king). The house has a perimeter wall, a drawbridge, towers attached to a walkway and a dovecote of 1000 boulins (or nest boxes) sign of great wealth (still visible in the park).
* It was called the manor of Cloux until the seventeenth century.
There she mourned her children who died in infancy.
A castel of pleasure
The Cloux was then acquired on July 2, 1490 by Charles VIII who, very much in love with his wife Anne de Bretagne, made it a castel of pleasure, a kind of summer residence where they came to rest from the hustle and bustle of the court, sitting then, next door, at the royal castle of Amboise. The king had erected in 1492 for the queen who was very pious, an oratory (a room of God) small jewel of Gothic art. She often came there accompanied by little Charles-Orland, the dauphin born in 1492 who was to suffer a tragic fate, since he was going to die at the age of 3 during an epidemic of smallpox. Then later, to mourn her three other children, all of them who died in infancy.
* The four murals of the oratory of Anne de Bretagne still visible today were painted by disciples of Leonardo da Vinci.
The playground of the future François 1st
The manor will then be made available to Louise de Savoie and her two young children, the intrepid Duc d’Angoulême, future François 1st and his elder sister, Marguerite de Navarre. It is in one of the rooms of the Clos Lucé that she will write part of her famous collection of short stories L ‘Heptaméron. François 1st, therefore knew the place well since the Clos Lucé had been his playground. He played ball, archery and war with friends of his age who would mark his reign, such as Robert de la Marck known as “Fleuranges” or Anne de Montmorency. Brother and sister receive painters, architects, poets, and blow on the place the spirit of the Renaissance.
The Château du Clos Lucé after Leonardo da Vinci, from the Amboise family to the Saint Bris family
After Leonardo da Vinci, many were the occupants of the Clos Lucé, among them: Michel du Gast, captain of the close guard of Henry III and who had taken part, in 1588, in the assassination of Duc Henri de Guise and his brother the Cardinal of Lorraine; then the beautiful Françoise Babou de La Bourdaisière, favorite of King Henri IV. For two centuries, it again became the property of the Amboise family. During the Revolution, Henri d’Amboise, its owner and deputy to the Convention, saved the manor from looting by invoking the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Since 1855, the Clos Lucé has been owned by the Saint Bris family, who restored it. In 1954, Hubert and Agnès Saint Bris opened it to the public. The Clos Lucé is chaired today by François Saint Bris with a mission: to transmit the heritage, memory and knowledge of Leonardo da Vinci. For this, the most advanced techniques are used: 3D animations, holograms, immersive projections, video games, an e-learning platform…
An International Centre for the Interpretation of Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance
It was also necessary to re-enchant the place by giving new life to the old factory* built in 1869 by Armand Moissant, engineer, specialist in metal constructions (Le Bon Marché, the Grand Palais in Paris). Today, it is transformed with cultural and scientific equipment. And for tomorrow (until 2030), François Saint Bris is thinking big: for it to become the first place of synthesis on Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. For this, the Château has acquired an industrial wasteland of 3 ha adjacent to the estate to create an International Center for interpretation Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance.
*François Saint Bris is a descendant of the Schneider family, founder of the Creusot factories, through his mother.
The Clos Lucé in its gardens. In the atmosphere Leonardo da Vinci!
The Château du Clos Lucé is located in the heart of a 7 ha park crossed by the Amasse, a small tributary of the Loire. It has been arranged in two parts, a cultural park of atmosphere, the Leonardo da Vinci Park and the Leonardo Garden, an open-air museum.
This garden is a walk to discover at random steps, the genius, life-size, of Leonardo da Vinci, aerial screw, tank, machine gun fan fire, paddle boat, squirrel wheel … About forty translucent paintings illustrate his pictorial work and his scientific and technical research. We cross bridges, all imagined by Leonardo, freestanding bridge, swing bridge, bridge on stilts, two-level bridge or, this bridge of the Corne d’Or* which was to connect the two banks of the Bosphorus.
*This Corne d’Or Bridge for Sultan Bajazet was designed by the Compagnons du devoir d’Armédieval, inspired by the great bridge, imagined in 1502 by Leonardo da Vinci, to unite the two banks of the Bosphorus in Constantinople.
When the Clos Lucé welcomes its visitors
The Auberge du Prieuré on the edge of Leonardo da Vinci Park, offers a gastronomic journey in Leonardo’s time (on the terrace or near the fireplace depending on the season). The service is provided in period costumes and the menu, punctuated by historical anecdotes, is announced in the traditional old “François”. (Open only for lunch).