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  • Writer's pictureLucy Walker

A Brief History of the Museo Leonardo da Vinci in Venice

What is the Museo Leonardo da Vinci?

The Museo Leonardo da Vinci is a museum that is dedicated to the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci. It displays reconstructions of his sketches and inventions, as well as multimedia exhibits.

Museo Leonardo da Vinci in Venice

Alma Pater, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Museo Leonardo da Vinci History

Leonardo da Vinci was born in Tuscany in 1452, the illegitimate son of a successful notary and a peasant woman. As a young man he trained in the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio and was admitted to the painters’ guild of Florence at the age of just 20. During his long career he produced some of the most extraordinary and influential works the world has ever seen, including some of the most famous paintings in history: the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, and Salvator Mundi; the last of these sold in 2017 for $450 million. Although famed as a master artist, da Vinci possessed a superb general intellect, conducting research and experiments in science, architecture, and engineering. His designs and observations were often centuries ahead of his time.

Leonardo spent most of his career in Milan and Florence, the capital of Tuscany. Not regularly associated with Venice, this remarkable polymath did actually spend several months here at the turn of the 15th century. Da Vinci fled to Venice in 1499 after his friend and patron Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, was overthrown by Louis XII of France. Da Vinci travelled with his assistant and the mathematician Luca Pacioli. His journals show that he and Pacioli were preoccupied during this period with the study of cosmography (a relatively new discipline which attempted to integrate various older modes of enquiry: astronomy, cartography, natural history, and mathematics). Da Vinci also worked as an engineer in Venice, devising a system of moveable barricades to protect the city from attack.

The plain, modest building that houses the Museo Leonardo da Vinci was constructed in the late 15th century, just before da Vinci arrived in Venice. It was built by the confraternity of San Rocco, a charitable organisation of wealthy Venetians dedicated to the 14th-century Saint Roch, who was thought to protect the city against plague. The current building replaced a smaller scoletta which was built shortly after Saint Roch’s remains were moved to Venice. The scoletta was used as a meeting and prayer house. It’s likely that da Vinci’s companion Pacioli, who was a Franciscan friar, visited the San Rocco complex during his time in Venice.

This interactive museum offers you the chance to see da Vinci’s detailed drawings, faithful reconstructions of his inventions, and learn about his impressive painting techniques through digital reproductions of da Vinci’s most famous works. This is the perfect place to understand the mind of the Renaissance’s great polymath.

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