Leonardo da Vinci and France

Castle of Clos Lucé

Le Château du Clos Lucé, his home from 1516 to 1519

The home of Leonardo da Vinci 1516 – 1519

In the Autumn of 1516, Leonardo da Vinci arrived at the Château du Clos Lucé, his only known residence. Aged 64, he undertook his final journey, coming from Italy to settle in France. From Rome, he brought the entirety of his notebooks and sketches as well as three of his masterpieces: "The Virgin and child with St. Anne", "St. John the Baptist" and the "Mona Lisa." These works still remain in France, now housed at the Louvre museum.

Summer residence of the kings of France since 1490, and of Charles VII, the Manoir du Cloux, today known by the name Château du Clos Lucé, was offered to da Vinci to use by François I in 1516.

The invitation of François I, Leonardo da Vinci "the King's first painter, architect and engineer"

François I expressed a profound respect for da Vinci, who he called "my father". The great craftsman and sculptor Benvenuto Cellini, who had also come from Italy, said: "King François, who was so taken with his great qualities, loved to listen to him talk and was to hardly ever be found apart from him..."

Da Vinci attributed a great deal of importance to light in his works: "Look at light and admire its beauty. Close your eyes, and then look again: What you saw is no longer there, and what you will see later has not yet come to be."

On October 10, 1517, da Vinci received a visit from Cardinal d'Aragon at Clos Lucé. According to an account from Antonio Beatis, secretary to the cardinal, Leonardo presented him with a painting of "a Florentine lady painted from life at the request of the late Giuliano de' Medici."

Mona Lisa

Leonardo da Vinci began painting the Mona Lisa in 1503 or 1504 in Florence, Italy. Although the Louvre states that it was "doubtless painted between 1503 and 1506", the art historian Martin Kemp says there are some difficulties in confirming the actual dates with certainty. According to Leonardo's contemporary, Giorgio Vasari, "after he had lingered over it four years, [he] left it unfinished". Leonardo, later in his life, is said to have regretted "never having completed a single work"

In 1516, Leonardo was invited by King François I to work at the Clos Lucé near the king's castle in Amboise. It is believed that he took the Mona Lisa with him and continued to work after he moved to France. Art historian Carmen C. Bambach has concluded that da Vinci probably continued refining the work until 1516 or 1517.

Upon his death, the painting was inherited with other works by his pupil and assistant Salaì. Francis I bought the painting for 4,000 écus and kept it at Palace of Fontainebleau, where it remained until Louis XIV moved the painting to the Palace of Versailles. After the French Revolution, it was moved to the Louvre, but spent a brief period in the bedroom of Napoleon in the Tuileries Palace.

During the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) it was moved from the Louvre to the Brest Arsenal. During World War II, the painting was again removed from the Louvre and taken safely, first to Château d'Amboise, then to the Loc-Dieu Abbey and Château de Chambord, then finally to the Ingres Museum in Montauban.

In December 2015, it was reported that French scientist Pascal Cotte had found a hidden portrait underneath the surface of the painting using reflective light technology. The portrait is an underlying image of a model looking off to the side. Having been given access to the painting by Louvre in 2004, Cotte spent ten years using layer amplification methods to study the painting. According to Cotte, the underlying image is Leonardo's original Mona Lisa.




Today the Mona Lisa is considered the most famous painting in the world, but until the 20th century, Mona Lisa was one among many and not the "most famous painting" as it is now termed. Once part of the king's collection, the Mona Lisa was among the very first artworks to be exhibited in Louvre, which became a national museum after the French Revolution. From the 19th century Leonardo began to be revered as a genius and the painting's popularity grew from the middle of the 19th century when French intelligentsia developed a theme that the painting was somehow mysterious and a representation of the femme fatal. In 1878, the Baedeker guide called it "the most celebrated work of Leonardo in the Louvre". but it was known more by the intellectual elite than the general public.
US President John F. Kennedy, Madeleine Malraux, André Malraux, Jacqueline Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson at the unveiling of the Mona Lisa at the National Gallery of Art during its visit to Washington D.C., 8 January 1963

The 1911 theft and the subsequent return was reported worldwide, leading to a massive increase in public recognition of the painting. During the 20th century it was an object for mass reproduction, merchandising, lampooning and speculation, and was claimed to have been reproduced in "300 paintings and 2,000 advertisements".

Musée du Louvre


From December 1962 to March 1963, the French government lent it to the United States to be displayed in New York City and Washington, D.C. It was shipped on the new liner SS France. In New York an estimated 1.7 million people queued "in order to cast a glance at the Mona Lisa for 20 seconds or so." In 1974, the painting was exhibited in Tokyo and Moscow.

In 2014, 9.3 million people visited the Louvre, Former director Henri Loyrette reckoned that "80 percent of the people only want to see the Mona Lisa."

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