A rare homecoming for Leonardo in Milan

“The Lady with the Ermine” arrives in the city as part of its Italian tour


Almost exactly 500 years after Leonardo left Milan, Alessandra Mottola Molfino, the new central director for culture, museums, sport and leisure has arranged for the city to pay tribute to him with a series of exhibitions that celebrate the artist’s seventeen years at the court of Lodovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan.

Among Leonardo’s notebooks is a draft of a letter to Lodovico Sforza in which he offered his services to the duke, claiming to be able to do almost everything, but principally to be a military engineer. Only at the end of the letter did he add that he could also work as an architect, a sculptor, “and in painting I can do as much as anyone, whoever he may be.”

Leonardo arrived in Milan from Florence in 1482 with a tribute to the Duke of Milan from Lorenzo il Magnifico, a lyre made by Leonardo “in the shape of a horse’s skull, mainly from silver, a strange and wonderful object”, according to Vasari.

The city is now celebrating the artist with “Milano per Leonardo” organised in the places most closely associated with Leonardo: Palazzo Reale; the Brera Academy; the Castello Sforzesco, the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, and the Last Supper in the refectory of St Maria delle Grazie.

On 18 November “The Lady with the Ermine” from the Czartoricki Foundation in Cracow goes on show at the Brera Academy following its exhibition in Rome in the restored stables of the Quirinal, the President of Italy’s official residence (until 14 November). To secure this loan from the private Polish foundation, the highest authorities were called in, including the Pope himself. The painting will also be seen at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence (16 December-24 January 1999).

Tickets to view “The Lady with the Ermine” also include admission to the exhibition in Palazzo Reale: “L’anima e il volto. Ritratto e fisiognomia da Leonardo a Bacon” (see below).

From early November the Biblioteca Trivulziana will be exhibiting the Codice Trivulziano, a 102-page notebook filled by the artist with his ideas, projects and sketches soon after he arrived in Milan, as part of the exhibition in Palazzo Reale, while from 30 November the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana is showing twenty-four pages from the 1,000 in Leonardo’s own hand of the Codice Atlantico.

A series of lectures about the artist and his followers is being held in the Palazzo Reale, the Museo Poldi Pezzoli and the Sala delle Asse in the Castello Sforzesco and guided tours by art historians are being organised by the local education authority.