By Anne Leader
Leonardo da Vinci drew up his last will and testament on 23 April 1519, a little over a week before his death on 2 May. First translated into English by Jean Paul Richter (The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci, 1883, entry no. 1566), the document records how Leonardo wished to be buried in the royal collegiate church of Saint-Florentin in Amboise, France, where he had been living since at least 1517 in the service of King Francis I (r. 1515-47). During the last years of his life, Leonardo was preoccupied, some have said obsessed, with the study of ferocious storms and the destruction they could cause. His notebooks are filled with descriptions of the cataclysmic power of nature and numerous sketches of deluges. He also spent time imagining an equestrian monument in honor of the French king – a monument type that had fascinated and confounded him since the 1480s, when he worked on a monument for Ludovico Sforza in honor of his father Francesco.
In addition to burial and masses at St. Florentin, Leonardo’s will requested celebrations at the Amboise church of Saint-Denis. He bequeathed his notebooks to his assistant Francesco Melzi (ca. 1491-1570), who communicated the painter’s death to his half-brothers back in Florence by letter. Leonardo’s desire to be buried in France likely arose out of practical considerations, but it is interesting that he did not ask to be taken back to his native Italy to be placed in his father’s tomb at the Badia of Florence. Unfortunately, St. Florentin was destroyed in 1808, but Leonardo’s remains were supposedly discovered during an excavation of the site by Arsène Houssaye in 1863. Many have doubted, however, that the bones later reinterred in the St. Hubert chapel at the château of Amboise are, in fact, those of Leonardo.
Sources: Martin Kemp. “Leonardo da Vinci.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press (2000); Ross King, “Leonardo’s Bones: Myth, History, and Evidence.” Human Evolution 31, no. 3 (2016): 133-47; Anne Leader, “’In the tomb of Ser Piero’: death and burial in the family of Leonardo da Vinci.” Renaissance Studies (2016), DOI: 10.1111/rest.12215.
A deluge, c.1517-18. Pen and black ink with wash. RCIN 912380. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016
A description of a deluge, with marginal sketches, c.1517-18. Pen and black ink. RCIN 912665. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016
A deluge, c.1517-18. Black chalk. RCIN 912386. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016
Studies for an equestrian monument. c.1517-18. Pen and ink over black chalk. RCIN 912360. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016
A study for an equestrian monument, c. 1517-18. Black chalk on paper washed buff. RCIN 912354. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016