I read a piece on Facebook today regarding the ever present interest in da Vinci’s famed painting of Mona Lisa. The issue at hand was once again Who’s that Lady? This artist and his Lady with the secret smirk will keep the world guessing throughout time.
I’ve seen the Mona Lisa in the Louvre and it is even more captivating than art book photos. But I was surprised that such a “big” painting was so much smaller than I had imagined.
Leonardo had an interesting relationship with King Françoise of France, according to the lady working in the gift shop at the Chateau. But then, maybe it was strictly about business. Painters were not self-supporting and needed sponsors, wealthy bill-payers so they could get on with their creativity. Perhaps in this new millennium we should consider this: look at Leonardo’s legacy!
We should not have starving artists today, but we do and I can only imagine the potential for richness that the world is missing. Instead we create chemical problems, pollute the sky, and poison the earth and waters and stash away useless pieces of paper in foreign accounts.
My Mother-In-Law was a Francophile. She had a complete service for twelve of Royal Worcester china, and collected 16 and 17th Century porcelain. She also had a full service of Reed & Barton’s Francis the First’s sterling silver place settings. I never knew her to use them.
I was fascinated with the silver ware, which she was not shy about letting me know was the best (most expensive) of Reed & Barton’s silver and she showed me the theme of fruits in the intricate designs: teaspoons, dessert spoons, soup spoons would each have a different fruit design on the handle, and so on with the various forks, fish knives, dinner knives and serving pieces. She was in love with R & B’s Francis the First! I thought it ridiculous, way overdone and a pain to keep up.
Fast forward a quarter century and I find myself on a month-long European journey with a friend. We began by visiting Paris for about ten days then hired a car and drove south through the Loire Valley (say Loawah Valley.) We had plans to zip through Paris in three days (it took ten) then the Loire, and get over to Italy a.s.a.p.
Cest la vie! We spent our second ten days in a charming town called Amboise (say “Ambwah) and toured the valley visiting and photographing the Loire River, it’s bridges, villages, chateaus and churches. One church in the town of Blois – (say “Blah”) had a printed notice that it had been “blown away “ by a windstorm several hundred years prior.
We went to street fairs and farmers markets and walked across lots of bridges and ate cheese. We loved the winding road through the countryside and visited the several chateaus, one of which had been turned in to a hospital during the world wars; another was well known for breeding (noisy) hunting dogs.
It was wintertime in France, dim daylight, lots of fog and scattered showers: incredible lighting for shooting chateaus and scenic vistas. It was also a very good time to be tourists. Not many American’s tour France in lousy weather, so we were received like royalty. My efforts at French, which I do not speak seemed to charm the people, not make them vomit and curse at me.
Instead they helped me, took time to explain lingual issues like my ordering “poisson” (fish) instead of “boisson” (drinks). Some lead me through their (empty) shops and made me repeat: “Brioche! Baguette! Croissant! And Ouf Coq, which I had every morning, avec un brioche sie vous ples.
I enjoyed the experience even if they might have been laughing at me rather than with me.
Our final stop was Françoise’ place, the chateau of Francis the First. Sure enough, my first “aha moment” came when I noticed wall friezes throughout the castle depicting the fruits exactly as I’d seen on my mother-in-law’s butt- ugly silverware!
My opinions about anything that ugly and who might own it blew up in my face. We toured from down in the lower basement and kitchens up through the social halls, then up curving staircases to other rooms, probably “apartments” for guests, and large sleeping rooms for servants. Chateaus had to be enormous, because when a royal went a-visiting his entire staff came along to serve him. Rooms and stables had to be provided for staff as well as the touring animals. Big, vacuous and vacant rooms were common in chateaus.
And so it was, after we toured Francis the First’s chateau, we emerged tired and frozen. Some of the fireplaces were taller than we, and all had roaring fires in them, and it was freezing. My teeth still chattered. The rooms were enormous they were virtually unheated. I decided I never wanted to be a princess or a queen, would turn down the job if offered.
And when we were done with Francis’abode we immediately went to the gift shop to buy postcards and warm up a little.
The shopkeeper was an older woman at the time, somewhere near the age I am now. She was very nice and spoke beautiful English. We chatted as we selected postcards and such to send or bring home, and she asked if we had seen Leonardo da Vinci’s home yet.
We never heard of it! She explained that Leonardo da Vinci was last “sponsored” by Francis the First, King of France. The two men got along well, and became such great friends that da Vinci eventually took up permanent and his final residence, about a mile from the chateau. Francis and Leo were pals and enjoyed each other’s company so much that Francis had a tunnel dug from his castle to da Vinci’s home so they could inconspicuously visit, away from the prying eyes and gossips of Amboise residents and the whole Loir Valley.
When we arrived at da Vinci’s home, we gathered brochures and learned that in the “first floor” or basement were full scale models of da Vinci’s inventions, built precisely according to his plans by IBM.
Seeing his “visions” full scale was as wonderful as it was sad: he never got to see them.
Leonardo da Vinci captivated me in the valley that already held me prisoner. He was an artist, a painter, an inventor, a cultivated connoisseur, an intellectual, and a very charming man. I would love to just one of these attributes.
Unfortunately, all I am able to do like him is to write backwards.