Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Tracking Down da Vinci

The Duomo
   A whole lot of people visit Milano for the shopping and then spend a few hours wandering over to visit the Duomo, pictured here.   They can take a tour of La Scala and go shopping for fashionable clothes and shoes.   You might even take a tram and visit the Sforza Castle before you visit the painting The Last Supper (La Ultima Cena in Italian).

      I am not your normal tourist kind of guy.  My highest thing on my to do list in  Milano was not  the shopping, the food or even seeing the impressive cathedral called the Duomo.   Since I now live in Italy I have the luxury of electing to see those sights on another visit. I was driven on my first visit to this city to find connections to the life of Leonardo da Vinci and Milano when he  worked for the Sforza family in their big castle.  He was employed to create war machines and give advice on strategy to win  battles.   Da Vinci is famous for one in particular where his advice defeated the Venetians to take the city of Ferrara by boat.  

     Known at the time for more than being a great painter, Sforza used da Vinci’s creative mind to decorate the castle and in presenting theatrical plays.   History tells us that he took charge of creating the  decorations at the Sforzesco Castle for the wedding of Gian Galeazzo Maria Sforza (only an infant—one of those arranged marriages) and Isabella of Aragon.  When the Sforzas would have a famous visitor, da Vinci was used to create entertainment complete with Hollywood style lighting effects.  

                              Where did George Washington Sleep?
     I had read several books on Leonardo and I hoped that I could find the exact place where he lived.  The plot of land where he lived is not noted by by signage or on any tourist map.  I knew it was quite near where the Last Supper is painted.  Using the descriptions I found in several books I eventually found the very spot where Leonard owned his small plot of land, grew grapes and had a few animals.  It was from here that he would paint or write his plays and design presentations for the Sforzas. Standing where his home would have been, were apartments, built in the 70’s.  This place was surrounded by other apartment builldings, and clearly he wouldn’t be able to recognize it at all.  Even at that it felt good to be standing where his house would have been.  In America there would be a big sign and probably a souvenir stand and several fast food joints.   Somebody wouid figure out a way to sell tickets complete with headphones and a map.
                                            Ultima Cena
     I hurried back as I had a reservation to see his famous Last Supper.   You have to make a reservation weeks ahead.  Going inside one can see the years have been cruel to the painting, once being part of a barn, and open to rain, humidity, etc.  The monks, years ago, cut a hole for a door in part of it.  I was more awed by just being lucky enough to be there.   I always thought that this was the only Last Supper painting Italy but now I have seen at least 5 others in the same style.

                                             Don’t Miss This
      I want to mention the Duomo, the huge cathedral this sits right in the middle of Milano.  It is most impressive as you can see from my photos.   They started construction in 1385 and finished it in 1813.  You realize the  motivation they had to keep working, to keep building, and yet, know most of them  would never see the completed structure.  That’s vision!  We are the lucky ones.

You wonder who had the job of counting the  3,159 statues in and on the Duomo.  You can see some of them in the photo.  What is totally awesome is that you can take an elevator to the top and walk around on the roof and see the statues close up.  Many of the gargoyles look to me like Disney created them, those faces, tongues hanging out, those eyes, quite captivating.  Then you look out and see the view!  It is worth the price of the elevator ride and more!   (There are the stairs for those needing exercise or the aged.)

       The Duomo is huge, and the design inside is filled with beauty.  Like all cathedrals in Italy you walk in a circle taking it all in, the paintings, the statues, the windows.  Then suddenly you reach the place where lies the body of the revered Saint Charles Borromeo.  You can see other saints dressed in vestments clothing and looking as if they are sleeping.  You see a lot of this in Italy, these shriveled up and spooky looking cadavers lying in a church.   Mark Twain, after his visit to the Duomo, said that the old saint should be left in quiet peace.  Along with centuries old men the viewers can see the heart of Borromeo and other relics from the past.   This is not unique to Milano.  In Padova, for instance, you can see the jaw of St. Antonio on display.

     Tourists think of Rome, Florence and Venice and their impressive cathedrals, but in the north of Italy, Milano has its charm.  Clearly the Duomo is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in all Europe.  When you visit Italy, you don’t want to miss out on Milano.

No comments: