Once upon a time there was a spring evening so mild and with a sky so clear you could see a blanket of stars. An evening in which by sheer luck you had the chance to pass through the entrance of an enchanted palace, made of bricks the color of warm sunsets. And just like the most beautiful treasures, within it hides a courtyard that seems designed for nothing less than a dream, a house with rooms that remind you of fairy tales and a garden lit by a thousand candles and guarded by statues. You walk to the edge of the garden, though the thousand candles are behind you now and you see the outline of a serious man, dressed in a dark, one-piece suit. He whispers to you, as if not to disturb, as if not to break the magic, that “no, you mustn’t go further: because the vineyard is there, Leonardo da Vinci‘s Vineyard”.
It’s only at that point that they tell you the fairy tale, the real one: this is where Leonardo da Vinci’s vineyard was reborn. We are at corso Magenta 65, where more than 500 years ago Ludovico Il Moro gave Leonardo a vineyard of about 8,000 square meters. Just to give you an idea, it extended from here to Porta Romana. It was a gesture of recognition for “the various and admirable works he had executed for the duke” and the choice of this gift was not causal because Leonardo came from a family of winemakers and wine was one of his many interests, as several documents such as notes and shopping lists show. This happened right around the time that Leonardo lived in Milan and was busy painting the Last Supper in the cenacle of Santa Maria delle Grazie.
Leonardo was very attached to this property, his tie to the city of Milan, so much that he firmly requested it be restored to him when it was expropriated by the French during the invasion of the city and then left it as a last inheritance divided into two equal parts: one to his faithful servant Giovanbattista Villani, the other to his student Gian Giacomo Caprotti, also known as “Il Salai”. In the following centuries, regardless of the urban transformations, the vineyard remained miraculously intact. In 1922 the art historian Luca Beltrami visited it and photographed it a few moments before it was taken apart for restoration work that had been planned by the architect Piero Portaluppi. A black and white image wrapped in the traditional cape of Milanese fog remains. Portaluppi wanted to preserve “a wooded rectangle where the residual Vincian vineyard persisted, an ancient thread of grapevine, a challenge against time”.
Afterward there were misfortunes, such as a fire and bombings in 1943 which reduced and then destroyed what was left. But the good star that protected the Last Supper (note: it miraculously resisted the bombings which occurred on the night of August 16th in 1943) extended its protection to the vineyard: the roots, beneath meters of earth, were recuperated and thanks to the Confagricoltura, they were reborn according to the original rows and vines. The grapevine has been identified, it is the Malvasia of Candia Aromatica, one of the most antique, of Greek origin, used a lot in the 1500s.
Expo has created an opportunity to access and visit this site, and listen to the story. I decided to wait until autumn because more than any other season, it is the one that rewards you with the most beautiful colors. A warm and sunny afternoon in this atypical October I make an appointment with a dear friend to enjoy the magic. Really simple online booking, very kind reception staff, small groups, a postcard blue sky and rays of sun perfectly complete the day. The courtyard looks like an open ceiling museum, with busts and statues and a bicycle leaning against the wall which adds that feel of daily routine. On the right is the studio of the architect Piero Portaluppi, protected by a marble bloodhound and characterized by a small iron house hung on the door jamb. It was the knocker on the door of the apartment where he worked and lived and is the symbol of his studies of the house. To note also the symbol of the building, a spiral composed of triangles, which appears on the gates, in iron and a represents the property’s logo.
Entering the Atellani building you can almost imagine occasions and events that took place within these walls, in the library and in the dinner hall. This isn’t a museum, it’s a house – still lived in today – and we enter on tiptoe into the lives of its inhabitants. The cat that lives here greets us and makes us feel even more at ease and nudges us into an intimate dimension. We, with our guides, walk to the edge of the garden, the Garden of Delights, savoring every smell and sound, caressing every shade of color and matter. We are lucky to be able to admire the sun as it sets behind us, and we leave feeling lighter, richer. Even more convinced that these coordinates have something magical about them.