Monday, March 5, 2012

A visit to the home of Leonardo

Sunday, March 4
The bell tower of Santa Croce rings out the
noon hour just as we exit from the mass.
The rental car can’t be returned on Sunday, so we take advantage of the rare luxury of having a car and plan a day trip to Vinci, the birthplace of Leonardo, which is less than an hour drive through the countryside. We plan to go the town’s Leonardo museum, but first we walk around the beautiful little hillside town and enter the church of Santa Croce and observe the last five minutes of the mass. It is believed that Leonardo was baptized here, and as the parishioners are leaving, we enjoy the artwork on the walls. Now it’s time for a relaxing pranzo, and then we decide to catch a short nap in the car before driving a few miles to see an old Medici castle in Cerreto Guidi. Cosimo I de’ Medici purchased the castle and transformed it into a villa around the mid-16th century. It became the family’s hunting residence and territorial defense in the area.  It was donated to the state in 1966 and is now a free museum.

A view of the surrounding hillsides of Vinci. Lucy, who took this photo,
says it reminds her of a patchwork quilt.
The walls are covered with works of art, including original portraits of members of the Medici family, and there are also rooms dedicated to weapons, mostly used for hunting but some for warfare as well. We take the tour in Italian, which means we don’t understand everything, but it is our language lesson for the day. On my first trip to Italy in 1996, I toured a Medici fortress and it meant little to me because I knew almost nothing about the family except that it was a ruling family of bankers. I have since read several books about these wealthy Florentines who were a vital catalyst for the Renaissance, so this tour is much more interesting, as I recognize the names, faces and events that the guide is explaining.

La Casa Natale di Leonardo da Vinci,
Heading back to Vinci, we realize that time is slipping away. We have to choose between the museum or seeing the house where Leonardo was born and raised, because we still have to get back in time to do our grocery shopping for the week while we still have the car. We choose the house, even though we know the inside is closed for restoration.  We drive uphill about two miles from Vinci to La Casa Natale di Leonardo and are impressed by the beauty of the location on an olive tree-covered knoll overlooking rolling verdant Tuscan hills. We can visualize how he would have been inspired to spend his life studying the beauty and harmony of the natural world. Hearing a slight buzzing noise overhead, we look up to see an ultra-light aircraft and consider the irony. Leonardo dreamed of flying and drew pictures of aerial contraptions, but he never lived to see advances in technology that would make manned flights possible. Imagine if he could be here at this moment to see this mini machine gliding past his house. Later I look online and find this quote from him: “For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.”

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