Article by Chiara Isabella Spagnoli Gabardi
Milan is the city where Leonardo da Vinci stayed the longest, arriving in 1482 to work at the court of Duke Ludovico Sforza. The polymath’s presence permanently marked the history and artistic production of the city and the entire region of Lombardy. This is the reason why Milano celebrates 500 years from Leonardo’s death, with a series of events that will take place until January 2020, and will have the Sforza Castle as main hub.
The reopening of the Sala delle Asse, core of "Milan and Leonardo 500,” took place on May 15th, presenting a rich and dynamic program of exhibitions and related initiatives. The restoration that began in 2013 has now come to completion, revealing a mulberry pergola, designed as a giant trompe l'oeil to turn the large room at the base of the Falconiera Tower into a representative hall for the Duke. It further portrays the mighty roots, known as the ‘Monochrome,’ named after its chiaroscuro painting technique. It is a remarkable graphic and pictorial depiction of the magnificent pergola made up of sixteen mulberry trees, characterized by detailed knotty trunks, landscapes, branches and leaves that keep resurfacing, thus changing the room’s perception.
Nature for Leonardo represented the subject of direct observation, investigations and the privileged topic of theoretical writings, paintings and drawings. This is why the natural environment is the prevailing theme in the Sala Delle Asse. Here, Leonardo painted a giant arboreal pavilion; with the mulberry tree — Morus in Latin — alluding to the nickname of Duke Ludovico Maria Sforza, who was given the epithet of Moro (Moor) by Francesco Guicciardini (one of the major political writers of the Italian Renaissance), because of his dark complexion.
The exhibition in Sala delle Asse, tributes the genius of Leonardo, catapulting it in the digital era, emphasizing how forward-thinking he was in terms of technology. Visitors begin their experience through the spectacular multimedia installation, "Sotto l'ombra del Moro. La Sala delle Asse,” (Under the Moro’s Shadow). Curated and conceived by Massimo Chimenti’s Culturanuova with the scientific collaboration of Francesca Tasso and Michela Palazzo, guests are immersed into a better understanding of the entire room and how it came into being. Projections and videos fill the vault and side walls, reconstructing Leonardo’s history with the ruler of Milan, allowing visitors to learn about the city’s history and the painter’s imitation of nature.
In these regards, Leonardo’s drawings are incredibly enlightening. For instance, the rooms of the Castello Sforzesco in Milan also host two other projects dedicated to Leonardo. In the Sala dei Ducali, the exhibition "Intorno alla Sala delle Asse. Leonardo tra Natura, Arte e Scienza" (Leonardo betwixt Art & Science), curated by Claudio Salsi, is a selection of original drawings by Leonardo da Vinci and other Renaissance masters showing iconographic and stylistic relations to the naturalistic and landscape decoration details found under multiple layers of limes in the Sala delle Asse. This scientifically and culturally significant exhibition was conceived by the Castle’s Direction in collaboration with some leading international museums, thanks to the loans from Her Majesty The Queen from the Royal Collection, the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin, and the Gallerie degli Uffizi in Florence.
The indoor exhibit concludes with a multimedia tour, installed in the Sala delle Armi, designed by Culturanuova, with the scientific collaboration of Edoardo Rossetti and Ilaria De Palma: "Leonardo a Milano” (Leonardo in Milan). This show guides visitors through a virtual a tour of Milan, as Leonardo experienced it from 1482 to 1512. The itinerary features a geo-referenced visual map of what is still left of these places, both in the city and within local museums, churches and buildings: urban spaces, aristocratic mansions and churches, such as the Church of San Francesco Grande, Borgo delle Grazie, Castello Sforzesco, the ancient Porta Vercellina, Corso Nirone, and the thoroughfare of current Corso Magenta-contrada dei Meravigli- Cordusio.
The celebration of Leonardo da Vinci continues also outdoors in the courtyard of the Castello Sforzesco, with a real mulberry tree pergola in the Cortile delle Armi. This live reproduction of what Leonardo portrayed inside the Sala delle Asse, is a real architecture made of plants, designed and created together with Orticola di Lombardia. The aim is for it to grow through the seasons, as a permanent reminder of the polymath’s work, so that the millions of visitors who walk across the Castle courts every year can enjoy a different, and botanical point of view.