At home with Leonardo

Well, OK, Leonardo da Vinci wasn't actually there, having been dead 495 years, but on Tuesday morning I visited the house at which he spent the last three years of his life. I say house, it's more of a mansion — the Château du Clos Lucé is a large 15th century manoir near the centre of the small market town of Amboise in the Loire valley of northern France. The town was once the royal seat of France, and the medieval grandeur still shows. 

Leonardo was invited to France by King Francis I in 1516. Da Vinci had already served the French governor of Milan, and was feeling squeezed from Rome by upstarts Rafael and Michelangelo. It's nice to imagine that Frank appreciated Leo's intellect and creativity — he sort of collected artists and writers — but let's face it, it was probably the Italian's remarkable capacity for dreaming up war machines, a skill he had honed in the service of mercenary and cardinal Cesare Borgia. Leonardo especially seemed to like guns; here are models of a machine gun and a tank, alongside more peaceful concoctions:

Inspired by José Carcione's assertion that Leonardo was a geophysicst, and plenty of references to fossils (even Palaeodictyon) in his notebooks, I scoured the place for signs of Leonardo dablling in geology or geophysics, but to no avail. The partly-restored Renaissance floor tiles did have some inspiring textures and lots of crinoid fossils... I wonder if he noticed them as he shuffled around?

If you are ever in the area, I strongly recommend a visit. Even my kids (10, 6, and 4) enjoyed it, and it's close to some other worthy spots., specifically Chenonceau (for anyone) and Cheverny (for Tintin fans like me). The house, the numerous models, and the garden (below — complete with tasteful reproductions from Leonardo's works) were all terrific.

Check out José Carcione's two chapters about Leonardo and
his work in 52 Things You Should Know About Geophysics.
Download the chapter for free! [PDF, 3.8MB]