Leonardo da Vinci at his home, at Clos Lucé (Amboise, Loire Valley)

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!

From this castle on the banks of the Loire in the city of Amboise one cannot expect magnificence. No, but it offers so much more. It offers the power of imagination, that of touching as closely as possible the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci. Oh the magic of the place! Yes, he died here in his room at Clos Lucé, far from his native Tuscany (Photo FC)

At Cloc Lucé, we immerse ourselves in the work of Leonardo da Vinci

At the Clos Lucé’s immersive show in the famous painting of the Last Supper, masterpiece of Leonardo da Vinci which is on the north wall of the refectory of the Dominican convent of Santa Maria de Graces in Milan; a tempera mural (460 × 880 cm), made from 1495 to 1498. In this large gallery that has just been opened to the public, 17 painted masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci are digitized and projected on the walls and ceiling in correspondence with the preparatory drawings. Thus, thanks to this immersive projection device, a graphic multiplication allows oneself to enter the process of creation of Leonardo da Vinci, from drawing to painting. Impressive! (Photo FC)

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

Entrance to the Clos Lucé. On the left the tufa stone oratory raised in 1492, for the very pious Queen Anne de Bretagne, a true jewel of Gothic architecture (Photo FC)
At The Clos Lucé, Leonardo da Vinci’s room (on the first floor) overlooks the castle’s Italian Garden. Around a pond, century-old pines, Italian cypresses, yews and among the flowers, the famous Mona Lisa rose (Photo FC)
From the window of his room in the Clos Lucé, Leonardo da Vinci could see the castle of Amboise about 500 m away. Overlooking the ramparts, the Chapelle Saint-Hubert built at the request of Charles VIII, a masterpiece of flamboyant Gothic (the carved decoration dates from 1495-1496). Did he suspect then that he had before his eyes, his funerary chapel that will house his presumed remains? (Photo FC)
The Clos Lucé in Leonardo’s garden (below the castle) gives life to Leonardo da Vinci’s botanical drawings, geological and hydrodynamic studies and landscapes (Photo FC)

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.

Leonardo da Vinci’s reconstructed workshop at Clos Lucé. It is located on the ground floor of the castle and extends over 3 rooms with cive windows with original wall frescoes repainted using pigments used in the Renaissance. The furniture was made to period plans. Thanks to his Treatise on Painting, we were able to find the pigments used, sanguine, soil of sienna, wash, as well as his tools, silver point, dry point. Everything is found on his large work table, with compass, ruler, paper weft, goose feather, candle, magnifying glass, world map… (Photo FC)

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.

In the gallery Leonardo da Vinci architect, religious architecture. He greatly admired the beauty of symmetry effects. Before him, these basilicas with a centered plan inspired the greatest masters of the Renaissance such as Brunelleschi, Alberti, Bramante or Francesco di Giorgio (Photo FC)
Leonardo da Vinci Architect Gallery. Here, a multimedia room is dedicated to the Royal Palace of Romorantin, the unfinished dream of Leonardo da Vinci whose 3D modeling makes it possible to imagine what he wanted to achieve. Thus, through an immersive video game, it is possible to fly over this ideal city rebuilt in 3D. (Photo FC)

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.

Leonardo da Vinci’s room at the Clos Lucé where he died at the age of 67, on May 2, 1519. It is now furnished with a four-poster bed on which the cat of the house fell asleep (the white spot on the edge of the bed). It was there that he wrote his will on April 23, 1519, bequeathing his manuscripts, sketchbooks, and sketches to his favorite disciple, Francesco Melzi. To the left of the bed, a copy of the famous painting by Ingres: Leonardo da Vinci depicted as an old man makes his last breath in the arms of King Francis 1st. Several characters are present including the distraught young man on the right who could be the young student of Leonardo da Vinci, Francesco Melzi (Photo FC)

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.

The oratory of Anne de Bretagne was commissioned by King Charles VIII for his wife, Anne de Bretagne. It is decorated with four frescoes painted by the artists of Leonardo da Vinci’s studio. Above the door, the Virgin of Light, “Virgo Lucis”, would have given her name to the Castle: the Clos Lucé. (Photo FC)

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 room of Margaret of Navarre. It was at the Clos Lucé that Marguerite de Navarre and her younger brother, the future François 1st, spent part of their youth under the protection of their mother, Louise de Savoie; room with Renaissance furniture and paved with terracotta tiles. In a window at the back of the room, the portrait of Marguerite d’Angoulême as a child (Marguerite de Navarre was born Marguerite d’Angoulême) painted by François Clouet, official painter of the King. Was it in this room that this vocation as a woman of letters came to her? She was nicknamed the “tenth of the muses”, notably for her collection of short stories known today as L’Heptaméron (Photo FC)
The large room of the Clos Lucé, giving to the right on the kitchen. This great hall was the meeting place between the painter and the king. The furniture is Renaissance; to see in the doorway leading to the kitchen, the facsimile of the deed of sale of the Clos Lucé to King Charles VIII for 3500 gold ecus. (Photo FC)

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.

François Saint Bris president of the Château du Clos Lucé. His family has owned the castle since 1855. Here, in front of the Galleries Leonardo da Vinci painter and architect. They were inaugurated in 2021. They highlight Leonardo da Vinci’s work on architecture and painting. (Photo FC)
François Saint Bris president of the Château du Clos Lucé. His family has owned the castle since 1855. Here, in front of the Galleries Leonardo da Vinci painter and architect. They were inaugurated in 2021. They highlight Leonardo da Vinci’s work on architecture and painting. (Photo FC)

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.

In the gardens of Clos Lucé, this double span bridge designed by Leonardo da Vinci. A solid oak structure made for the first time at full size by les Compagnons charpentiers du devoir (Photo FC)
This arched and self-supporting bridge (according to the original drawing preserved in Milan) is 16 m long by 1.60 m wide and overlooks the river Amasse at its highest at 2.50 meters. The total weight of the bridge and its reinforcement is 5.5 tons. It establishes a footbridge between Leonardo’s garden and the Leonardo da Vinci galleries (Photo FC)
In this garden of Leonardo at the Clos Lucé, mist effects in the manner of the pictorial technique of Sfumato used by Leonardo da Vinci (Photo FC)

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).

Welcome to the Château du Clos Lucé, welcome to leonardo da Vinci’s final home (Photo FC)

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