Leonardo da Vinci not only invented the ancestor of the modern car, he conceptualised a crank-powered armoured tank and designed a humanoid automaton, a mechanical knight – in 1495. He was an architect, engineer, mathematician, sculptor, geologist, anatomist, artist and scientist.
He predicted that for man to fly he must be supplied with wings which would make a variety of movements to keep on a steady keel. His writings and models, especially of the parachute and helicopter helped others to think about flying in the right way. Three hundred years later in France, where da Vinci spent his last three years, the brothers Montgolfier, experimenting with the idea of hot air which always rises, made several large balloons. They suspended animals below and successfully sent them on flights. When Pillatre de Rozier made an ascent in a balloon, he became the world’s first aeronaut.
Way ahead of his time, da Vinci’s influence is far reaching and a part of modern life. Diving suits, cranes and gearboxes were all amongst his designs.
The genius of Leonardo da Vinci has been brought to life at the Chateau du Clos Lucé, in the Loire Valley. His final home in the town of Amboise, where he died in the small chateau, and is laid to rest at the Castle of Amboise.
Leonardo da Vinci in the Loire Valley
Leonardo da Vinci arrived in Amboise, in the Loire Valley in 1516. He was 64 years old and made the journey by donkey from Italy, where he was born in 1452.
Invited by King Francois 1 to live at the Chateau of Clos Lucé, a stone’s throw from the King’s chateau of Amboise, da Vinci left his mark on the Loire Valley. It was the time of the French Renaissance, which emerged at the beginning of the 16th century, inspired by Italian artists. An influence which revolutionised architecture, decoration and an entire way of life. The King had huge admiration for da Vinci, it’s said that he liked to call the artist “my father” and the two worked closely together.
Loire Valley home of Leonardo da Vinci
Da Vinci was paid generously, enough to live and create as he wished. He organised grand festivities for the king, parties that were spoken of for years afterwards. They included complex scenographic effects, automata such as a lion which spat out fleur de lys when you knocked on its chest, and special sound and lighting effects. He designed an ideal city, completed the painting of the Mona Lisa and wrote copious journals, manuscripts and sketch books.
Da Vinci died in his bedroom at the chateau of Clos Lucé on 2 May 1519. He is buried in the chapel of the Chateau of Amboise. The chateau where he lived has been renovated and restored to look as it did when da Vinci lived there. His workshops are full of paintings and artefacts. His bedroom is decorated with period furnishings which makes it all the more moving. It’s easy to imagine him walking around the castle in his robes. Making notes, dining at the wooden table where he ate carefully, convinced that as one get’s older one must eat less meat and practice sobriety for good health.
Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions
The castle and the glorious gardens that surround it – now an open air museum – pay homage to the genius who once lived there.
Reproductions of da Vinci’s paintings, of the notes he wrote, sculptures and in particular some of the amazing inventions that he left behind and which have influenced life to this day can be found in the castle. There are more than 40 models in the basement of the castle.
And in the garden you’ll discover life-size models of some of his most incredible inventions. The aerial screw, made of linen stretched around wire, is the ancestor of the modern helicopter. The rotation is manually activated by turning the wooden cranks around a central axis. The articulated glider is undoubtedly his most famous and craziest invention. To design this machine, he fanatically observed birds and bats in flight. The tank is one of the most iconic inventions of the Italian master. Under a turtle-shaped shell, with well-placed openings, there are thirty guns ready to create havoc. The odometer is the ancestor of our measuring wheel. At each turn of the wheel on this barrow, a clever mechanism drops a pebble into a basket. At the end, you simply count the number of pebbles to calculate the distance travelled.
Seeing the models up close and being able to test them in the way that Leonardo da Vinci intended is a memorable experience. You can’t help but be amazed by the depth of his imagination and genius. And as you walk in his footsteps in this lovely chateau, you can almost feel his spirit…
Find out more: Chateau de Clos Luce
More on the Loire Valley
Chateau de Chambord with its double helix stairs case inspired by da Vinci
The Chateau de Chenonceau – a masterpiece of French Renaissance