April 29, 2019 / 1:27 PM / 6 months ago

At Amboise, Leonardo's last years paint a picture of Franco-Italian harmony

AMBOISE, Loire Valley, France (Reuters) - Commemorations for Leonardo da Vinci’s 500th anniversary begin this week in Amboise, in the Loire Valley, with France and Italy setting aside recent tensions to honor the memory of the Renaissance genius in the town where he spent his final years.

In 1516, aged 64, Leonardo da Vinci left Italy to enter the service of King Francis I of France. Many of his masterpieces - St. John the Baptist, the Mona Lisa - followed him and were sold to the French monarch, forming a legacy now exhibited at the Louvre museum in Paris.

Amid diplomatic tensions between Rome and Paris, his legacy has become contentious, with Italy’s Culture undersecretary Lucia Borgonzoni in November telling Italian media she wanted to renegotiate the planned lending of his works to the Louvre for an anniversary exhibition, because “the French cannot have it all”.

It is unclear, for example, whether the iconic drawing of the “Vitruvian Man” will eventually leave Venice to join the Louvre for the display.

But on Thursday, in Amboise, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian counterpart Sergio Mattarella will seek to ease strains between the two normally close allies that have grown more acute since mid-2018, mostly over migration policy.

They will gather at Leonardo’s tomb, a modest grave in a chapel of Amboise castle containing his presumed remains, and will pay a visit to his house nearby, the Clos Luce, where he died on May 2nd, 1519.

“It’s an extremely solemn gesture, showing that the two countries have this shared memory, this figure, a culture that binds our two countries,” the director of Amboise castle Jean-Louis Sureau told Reuters in an interview.

Da Vinci ‘s arrival in France was no accident, because King Francis I wanted him to join the Court to participate in its international influence and refinement, Sureau said.

“Leonardo da Vinci was unquestionably born in Italy, he’s Florentine, but beyond that, he led a career at the service of several powerful men. This career, and his life, end here, in France,” Sureau added.

During his three years in France, da Vinci focused on perfecting unfinished masterpieces, drawing and scientific writing, but also took part in organizing lavish parties for the King of France.

“This universal man, who, to be clear, was first and foremost Italian, can also be seen as the symbol of a European culture, built beyond traditional divisions,” Catherine Simon Marion, delegate general of the Clos Luce, said.

Additional reporting by Antony Paone, Editing by John Irish and William Maclean

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