Places where Leonardo and his father Ser Piero lived and worked
Leonardo was not listed in 1469 among the «mouths» in the family of his father, who worked «at the Palagio del Podestà» in Florence, although declaring to the Land Office that he owned a «house for our own residence in the Popolo di Santa Croce» in the Commune of Vinci. For this reason, it was commonly believed that Leonardo had moved to Florence in that year. Moreover, thanks to the biographical tradition created by Vasari, he was thought to have entered Verrocchio's shop in that same 1469. In reality, it is probable that his training in art began even earlier, and that he had lived in Florence much before this date, in the houses rented by Ser Piero starting from 1457 at least.
The last certain information shows that Leonardo lived in Palazzo Martelli in 1508. The last of his projects for Florence dates instead from 1515, when he worked on the Medicean quarter.
Places where Leonardo's father worked
Ser Piero, Leonardo's father, practiced the profession of notary in Florence from 1448 to June 26, 1504. When he died, on July 9, 1504, Leonardo noted that he was still «notary at Palazzo del Podestà» (today's Bargello Museum, between Via del Proconsolo and Via Ghibellina), in the vicinity of which he had his studio.
In one of the documents notarized by him on July 12, 1456, Ser Piero declared: «Actum Florentie, in Populo Sancti Stefani Abbatie fiorentine, in apotheca residentie mei Petri notarii infrascripti» [Done in Florence, in the Popolo di Santo Stefano of the Badia Fiorentina, at the residence of myself, Piero, the aforesaid notary]. The notary's residence and studio were situated on the premises of the Badia Fiorentina in Via del Proconsolo, as can also be deduced by the boundaries indicated by Ser Piero himself in other notarial deeds (1456-1468): «a I et II et III bona dicte Abbatie, a IIII via publica», that is, bordering on three sides with the property of the Badia, and on the fourth with the public street.
From May 1461 to October 1468, Ser Piero's studio was still located in a building belonging to the Badia, where he worked in association with three other notaries: Ser Antonio di Adamo di Grazia, Ser Bartolomeo di Antonio Nuti and Ser Piero di Carlo del Viva.
Starting in November 1468, Ser Piero moved his notarial studio to the Popolo di Santo Stefano alla Badia, opposite Palazzo del Podestà (today's Via Ghibellina, across from the Bargello), first in partnership with Ser Piero di Carlo del Viva, and then alone: from November 1476 to October 1477, the two notaries rented the studio under separate contracts.
From 1478 on, Ser Piero continued to rent the studio alone, until his death, when his place was taken by his son, Ser Giuliano Da Vinci (from 1504 to 1507).
Leonardo's father's houses
Borgo dei Greci (1457-1462)
Ser Piero lived in the Popolo di San Firenze from at least August 19, 1457, the date of a liberatio sclavae notarized by Ser Piero «in Populo Sancti Florentii, in domo habitationis mei notarii infrascripti», to October 4, 1462. The house has been identified thanks to a document dated February 7, 1462, in which the boundaries of the building are specified: «in Populo Sancti Florentii, in domo habitationis mei Petri notarii infrascripti, posita in dicto populo, cui a primo via, a II Domine Darie vidue, uxoris olim Iohannis Zuccheri, a III Chiassolino ex parte posteriori […]», that is, in the Popolo di San Firenze, in the house inhabited by myself, Piero, said notary, located in the aforesaid Popolo, bordering on the first side on the street, on the second with Monna Daria, widow, formerly the wife of the late Giovanni Zuccheri, and on the third side with the Chiassolino at the back. It is interesting to note that one of the witnesses, in addition to a certain Amadori and a Buti, was Ser Piero's brother Francesco, indicated as "shoemaker".
Based on recent research conducted by Elisabetta Ulivi, this house was situated in the Popolo di San Firenze, in Borgo dei Greci, in the vicinity of what was then Via del Canestruccio and near the house of the Amadori (the family of Albiera, Ser Piero's first wife).
San Biagio (formerly Santa Maria Sopra Porta) – Piazza di Parte Guelfa (1462-1467)
From October 29, 1462 to March 29, 1464, Ser Piero lived with his wife Albiera in the quarter of Santa Maria Novella, Popolo of Santa Maria Sopra Porta, in proximity to Piazza di Parte Guelfa (which was entered from Via Pellicceria, from Vicolo della Seta and from the Chiasso di San Biagio).
The front of the house bordered on the street, the back on Mario dei Nobili's property, and both sides on the Arte del Cambio, which owned it.
Born in this house, on June 16, 1463, was Antonia, a daughter of Ser Piero and Albiera, who died and was buried on July 21 of the same year in the church of San Biagio (formerly the church of Santa Maria Sopra Porta), where on June 15, 1464 Albiera too was buried, having died in childbirth.
On October 4, 1463 Ser Piero sublet to Donato Franceschi, for five years, a house owned by Leonardo di Guasparre or by Maria Infangati, near the Loggia dei Cerchi in the Santa Croce quarter (Popolo di San Romolo), which he had probably rented for himself, in the uncertainty of whether he could continue living in the house owned by the Arte del Cambio in Santa Maria Sopra Porta.
Piazza della Signoria – Chiasso dei Baroncelli (1467)
On January 16, 1467 Ser Piero rented a house from Simone Baroncelli, in the Popolo di San Pier Scheraggio, «situated on Piazza de’ Signori», that is, Piazza della Signoria, bordering on the Chiasso of Messer Bivigliano, Sandro di Bivigliano Raugi, and on Piazza de’ Baroncelli. Here he remained at least until October 12 of the same year, the date of a notarial documents bearing the words, «actum Florentie in Populo Sancti Petri Scheradii, in domo habitationis mei Petri notarii infrascripti», that is, done in Florence in the Popolo di San Pier Scheraggio (the church later encapsulated in the Uffizi Gallery but still visible today), in the house inhabited by myself, Ser Piero the aforesigned notary.
On October 27, 1467 the same house was re-rented to Marco di Angelo Baroncelli, while on the following day Ser Piero was already living and working in the house situated in the Popolo di Sant’Apollinare.
Via dei Gondi (formerly Via delle Prestanze) (1467-1480)
On October 28, 1467 in a deed notarized by Ser Piero, we read: «actum Florentie in Populo Sancti Appolinaris, in domo habitationis mei notarii infrascripti», that is, compiled by Ser Piero at his own residence in Sant’Apollinare.
This was already, very probably, the house in which Ser Piero lived until 1480, in the Popolo di Sant’Apollinare, in Via delle Prestanze (also known as Via del Montecomune, or as Sdrucciolo della Dogana), enlarged in the 19th century by the implementation of Poggi's projects for Florence as capital of Italy, and forming the present-day Via dei Gondi. The building belonged to the Arte dei Mercatanti (or Calimala). Ser Piero had sublet it from Michele di Giorgio del Maestro Cristofano and then from Giuliano Gondi. In fact Ser Piero, in the Land Office report of 1480, specified: «I first stayed in a house owned by the Arte de’ Mercatanti […] rented for 30 florins a year. I engage to pay that rental fee to Giuliano Gondi up through next October, 1480».
In 1485 Gondi, who already owned the adjoining house, in which he lived, also bought the houses owned by the Arte dei Mercatanti. He had these buildings demolished and commissioned Giuliano da Sangallo to build the present-day Palazzo Gondi. Work stated on July 29, 1490. Here an inscription recalls: «LEONARDO DA VINCI / lived his auspicious youth / in a house owned by the ARTE DEI MERCATANTI / that was bought and demolished by GIULIANO GONDI / to build this palace / at the completion of which in MDCCCLXXIV / the commune and the owner by common accord / desired to preserve the memory of such a name / on this fine and noble building / to enhance its decorum».
It is interesting to note that Leonardo mentions in the Codex Atlanticus (f. 1024v), among his other friends, Giuliano Gondi, who was engaged in many commercial activities outside of Florence; his sons, in fact, worked in Naples, in Hungary and in Constantinople.
Via Ghibellina (1480-1504)
From March 1, 1480 (s.f. 1479) Ser Piero lived in the Popolo di San Pier Maggiore in Via Ghibellina (between Via della Fogna and Via del Pepe, today called Via di Verrazzano and Via del Fico), near the Palazzo del Podestà (the present-day Bargello Museum) as declared in his Land Office report for that year, 1480. This was the house he should have inherited in 1451 according to the terms of the will, drawn up in 1449, of Vanni di Niccolò di Ser Vanni, silk merchant and money-changer. This heredity, at the centre of mysterious vicissitudes, had been the subject of a controversy reported by Leonardo's grandfather, Antonio, to the Land Office in 1457: «And again I find a legacy that was bequeathed to the said Ser Piero my son by Vanni di Niccolò di Ser Vanni, through which he was left lifetime board and the return of the house in which he lived, as appears from the will of the said Vanni, notarized by Ser Filippo di Cristofano. I do not know what was bequeathed, because the heirs of said Vanni di Niccolò di Ser Vanni, who were the monks of San Girolamo da Fiesole, having taken what they wanted with the Pope's dispensation, refused to accept said legacy from the hands of the Archbishop of Florence, and he took everything, and has sold and distributed everything, saying that it was property not legitimately gained, and it is about 6 years since the said Vanni died, and never was anything gained from it, and it has been entirely extinguished and nullified.»
It was here that Ser Piero died, as Leonardo recalls, on July 9, 1504.
The Da Vinci family tomb - Badia Fiorentina
The family tomb is recorded in the Badia Fiorentina starting from 1472 («S.S. PETRI ANTONI S. PETRI DE VINCIO ET SUORUM A.D. 1472»). Here Ser Piero was buried in 1504; and in the Badia were also buried two of Leonardo's sisters, both of whom died a few weeks after their birth, in 1477 and 1490; and still another in 1505. Ser Piero's first wife, Albiera, and their daughter Antonia had been buried instead in the church of San Biagio (formerly the church of Santa Maria Sopra Porta), in 1464 and 1463 respectively.
Verrocchio's shop (Via dell'Agnolo)
From at least 1451 the Verrocchio family had owned a house at the crossroads of Via dell’Agnolo and "Via Pentolini sive Malborghetto" (today's Via de’ Macci). Here Andrea del Verrocchio lived at least until 1470. Adjacent to the house, or at any rate in the close vicinity, was his shop, in which Leonardo too worked, his presence being documented at least in 1476.
At a later time Andrea «rented a shop with several rooms» in another quarter, probably behind the Cathedral, in a building owned by the Bischeri family, where Michelozzo and Donatello had had shops in the past.
The Garden of Lorenzo de' Medici at San Marco
The Anonymous Gaddiano writes that Leonardo «stayed as a young man with the Magnificent Lorenzo de’ Medici, who provided for him and had him work for him in the garden on Piazza di San Marco in Florence».
Condivi, in his Life of Michelangelo, states that the latter was brought there to work by Granacci in 1490.
Vasari recalls the sculptor Bertoldo as he who, at the request of Lorenzo, served as conservator of the works and director of the school for painters and sculptors in the San Marco complex, described by Vasari as follows: «The loggia, the paths and all of the rooms in the garden that Lorenzo had built on Piazza di San Marco.» Vasari also recalls the presence in the garden of artists close to Leonardo, such as Rustici, Granacci himself, and Lorenzo di Credi, as well as Torrigiano, Baccio da Montelupo and Andrea Sansovino.
The "Garden of Lorenzo" was situated at the corner of Piazza San Marco (on the church side) between Via Larga (today's Via Cavour) and Via Arazzieri, bordering on the "Spedale" of the Tessitori and the Company of Priests, in the block running from Via Salvestrina to Via San Gallo, which also contained the Garden of Clarice de’ Medici that had been owned until 1478 by the church of Santa Maria della Neve.
In reality, some doubt exists as to the dates and presences in Lorenzo's Garden. It is unsure, for instance, whether Cosimo the Elder owned land here already in 1455, or whether Lorenzo bought it only after 1480, at which time Leonardo was 28 years old and about to leave Florence for Milan. But already in a paper of Massaio, datable between 1472 and 1480, the «hortus Laurentii de’ Medicis» is mentioned.
The Garden was used as a storage place for weapons as well as a shelter for works of art, when Charles VIII entered Florence in 1494, determining the flight of Michelangelo and his patron Piero de’ Medici. On that occasion the Garden of Lorenzo and the Orchard of San Marco were sacked by the enraged populace.
Church of Santissima Annunziata
Returning to Florence not later than April 24, 1500, Leonardo took the place of Filippino Lippi in the commission for executing the paintings for the high altar of Santissima Annunziata. For this reason he accepted the hospitality of the monks, going with his assistants to lodge in the monastery.
In 1550 Vasari writes that, «Upon returning to Florence, Leonardo found that the Servite friars had commissioned Filippino to paint the altarpiece for the high altar in the Nunziata; this caused Leonardo to declare that he would gladly have painted a similar work. Upon hearing this Filippino, like the kind and gentle person he was, withdrew, and so that Leonardo might paint it, the friars took him into their household, paying the expenses for him and his whole family. Then Leonardo kept them waiting for a long time without ever beginning anything. During this time, he did a cartoon representing Our Lady and Saint Anne with the figure of Christ, which not only amazed all of the artisans but, once finished and displayed in a room, drew men, women, young and old to see it, as if going to a solemn festival, to gaze upon the marvels of Leonardo, which stupefied the entire populace. For in the face of this Madonna all the simplicity and beauty that can justly be attributed to Christ's mother can be seen, since Leonardo wished to show the modesty and humility of a virgin delighted to gaze upon the beauty of her child, who holds Him tenderly in her lap, while with a modest downward glance she notices Saint John as a little boy who is playing with a lamb, not without a smile from Saint Anne, overjoyed to see her earthly progeny become divine.»
Fra Pietro da Novellara, in a letter to Isabella d’Este dated April 3, 1501, confirmed that Leonardo was working on the cartoon for the Saint Anne; the location of the latter, which is not the one now in the National Gallery of London, is still unknown.
In the offices of the Military Geographic Institute there have recently been found, adjacent to parts of the building still owned by the monastery, the rooms where Leonardo would have been able to lodge for a long time and probably to work on the "marvels" of the cartoon. Although having been remodelled more than once, these rooms can be attributed to the great architect Michelozzo, who belonged to Brunelleschi's circle. The suggestion that some frescoes still existing in these rooms should be attributed to Leonardo is instead groundless.
The church of Santissima Annunziata was remodelled around 1440 by Michelozzo, but its rotunda was designed by Leon Battista Alberti. The portico is the work of Antonio da Sangallo, while in the Chiostrino dei Voti are found, in addition to a Nativity by Alessio Baldovinetti with a landscape that undoubtedly caught the attention of Leonardo, frescoes by the leading figures in Mannerism who came after Leonardo, such as Pontormo, Rosso Fiorentino and Andrea del Sarto.
When the Signoria commissioned Leonardo to paint the Battle of Anghiari, on October 24, 1503, he was given the keys to the Pope's Room in Santa Maria Novella, where he was to make the preparatory cartoon for the great wall painting that was to adorn the east wall of the Great Hall in Palazzo Vecchio, over a space 18.8 wide and 8 meters high.
In February 1504, payments are recorded for «building the scaffolding for said cartoon» and for many other preliminary jobs and expenses.
The cartoon was then brought to Palazzo Vecchio, where it was used for transferring the composition of the Battle of Anghiari onto the wall. In the great hall, facing Michelangelo's cartoon for the Battle of Cascina, it constituted that marvel hailed by Benvenuto Cellini as the "School of the world" for the influence it exerted on the artists who saw it. Although no one yet knows where it is, it is hard to believe that it has been lost.
Santa Maria Novella undoubtedly represented for Leonardo a fundamental lesson in the various artistic expressions of the Early Renaissance, with Alberti's façade (commissioned by the Rucellai family), the Gondi chapel (designed by Sangallo, with a Crucifix by Brunelleschi), the Tornabuoni chapel (with Ghirlandaio's frescoes), Giotto's Crucifix in the sacristy, Masaccio's Trinity (fundamental also as regards the concept of perspective), Brunelleschi's pulpit, the Rucellai chapel (with Cimabue's Madonna Enthroned, later moved to the Uffizi), the Green Cloister with the frescoes of Paolo Uccello (including the extraordinary Deluge), and the Spanish Chapel (frescoed by Andrea di Bonaiuto).
Palazzo Vecchio (formerly Palazzo della Signoria)
In 1478 Leonardo had been commissioned to paint an altarpiece representing The Vision of St. Bernard for the chapel of San Bernardo in Palazzo della Signoria; before this, it had been commissioned of Piero del Pollaiolo. Leonardo did not finish the work, although he had prepared a cartoon. The commission was then assigned to Ghirlandaio, but it was Filippino Lippi who finished the work, now in the Uffizi. According to the Anonymous Magliabechiano, Filippino also used Leonardo's cartoon. Through a succession of iconographic transformations, it had become a Virgin enthroned with four saints and two angels that recall the angels of Verrocchio and Leonardo, as well as those created for the Forteguerri Cenotaph in Pistoia, now displayed at the Louvre.
In 1503 Leonardo was commissioned to paint, for the Great Council Hall in Palazzo della Signoria, a grandiose wall painting representing the Battle of Anghiari, in commemoration of the victory won on June 29, 1440 by the Florentines under the command of Giovanni Paolo Orsini over the Milanese led by Niccolò Piccinino. Plans called for another great painting on the opposite wall, a Battle of Cascina for which Michelangelo was chosen.
The payments recorded in the archival documents include costs incurred for building the mobile scaffolding and for recompensing Leonardo and his assistants. Interesting in this regard is an autograph note by Leonardo found in Madrid Ms. II. On Friday, June 6, 1505 he was in Palazzo Vecchio and at the hour of one o'clock he began to paint on the wall of the Great Council Hall: «On the day of June 6, 1505 a Friday, at one o'clock precisely, I began to apply the colours in the palace. As I was about to use the brush, a storm broke and thunder pealed, summoning men to reason. The cartoon was torn, water gushed in, and the jar of water we had brought was broken. And immediately the weather turned foul and rain poured down until evening. And it was dark as night.»
Some questions are posed by this passage. Were these his first brushstrokes or, as is probable, a resumption of work? Does this recollection express a sad premonition? The rhythm of the wording is pressingly urgent. Is it possible that the words «the cartoon was torn», «water gushed in», «the jar was broken» held prophetic significance for Leonardo? Along with «the weather turned foul and it was dark as night», was it a premonition of that legendary ruin of the painting which, according to the Anonymous Gaddiano and Vasari, was to destroy the nascent masterpiece of Leonardo?
The most likely hypothesis is that it was not a matter of the whole painting deteriorating, but rather of a partially negative result at a preliminary stage. Could it be instead that Leonardo interrupted his work to go to Milan at the request of Charles d'Amboise and King Louis XII – as wrote the Gonfaloniere Soderini – after having «made a small beginning on a great work»? And is it not documented that on February 26, 1513 (1514 according to the Florentine calendar) a wooden structure was built «to be placed around the figures painted in the Great Hall of the Guard by the hand of Lionardo da Vinci, to protect them, so they will not be damaged»? It thus seems that Leonardo's unfinished masterpiece was not only conserved and well protected, but even visible and highly esteemed. Significant in this regard are the words written by Anton Francesco Doni in 1549, years before Vasari's restoration initiative (1563): «And having climbed the stairway to the Great Hall, diligently observe the group of horses and of men (a battle scene by Lionardo da Vinci) that will appear to you a marvellous thing indeed». It is hard to believe that Vasari would have destroyed a masterpiece by Leonardo. It is much more probable instead that he covered it with his own frescoes. As of now, scientific examination and on-site research have not yielded the expected results, but investigation is still going on.
Other doubts arise as the fate of the "sumptuous" cartoon still remembered in the 18th century, and the possible collocation of the preparatory panel that was undoubtedly painted (as proven also by the engraving made by Lorenzo Zacchia in 1558).
Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova
Leonardo's relations with the "Spedale" of Santa Maria Nuova are documented not only in his will but also at various moments during his lifetime. Here he had his bank, and here he deposited cases of printed books, manuscripts and albums of drawings. And it was here that he conducted anatomical studies.
Upon leaving Milan near the end of 1499, Leonardo transferred to Florence, to the "bank" of Santa Maria Nuova, 600 «gold florins heavy with gold». In the following years he withdrew 400 florins. Before leaving for Milan, on May 20, 1506, he personally withdrew 50 florins, which left 150 that, according to the commitment stipulated in Santa Maria Nuova on the following May 30, were to serve as guarantee to the Florentine Signoria that he would return to the city within three months, upon penalty of losing his money. The guarantor was Leonardo di Giovanni Buonafé, the efficient "spedalingo" (hospitalarius) of Santa Maria Nuova for three decades starting from 1500, and known also as the client of such artists as Pontormo, Rosso Fiorentino, Benedetto da Maiano, and Giovanni della Robbia.
Leonardo did not return to Florence in time, and the Signoria confiscated his 150 florins, requesting also that they be reimbursed for «the money spent for the work», the Battle of Anghiari, for which Leonardo had «made only a little start in a great work.»
On October 10, 1513 he personally deposited at Santa Maria Nuova 300 scudi di sole (French currency). In his will dated April 23, 1519, drawn up at Amboise: «He orders and desires that the sum of 400 scudi del sole that he has deposited in the hand of the Camerlingo de’ Sancta Maria de Nove in the city of Florence be given to his blood brothers residing in Florence, with any interest that may be due up to now from the aforesaid Camerlenghi…».
An autograph folio of Leonardo now in the Windsor Royal Library confutes the legend that he stole cadavers, to secretly use them as models for his drawings. It is Leonardo himself to explain how he acted in full legality and proceeded with great humanity: «And this old man told me, a few hours before his death, that was over a hundred years old and he was conscious of no bodily failure, apart from weakness. And thus sitting on a bed in the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova, with no other movement or sign of distress, he passed away from this life. And I performed anatomy on him, to find the cause of such a gentle death: which I found to result from failure of the blood and the artery that feeds the heart and the lower members, which I found to be dry, shrunk and withered. This dissection I described very diligently and with the greatest ease, since the body was without fat or humours, which severely hinder recognition of the parts. The other dissection was of a child two years old, in which I found everything the opposite that of the old man»,
A tradition, which has turned out to be more legend than documented history, tells of two great stone basins situated in the undercroft of the Hospital and used for the cadavers studied by Leonardo. Although this is a highly evocative image, it still remains to be proved.
Palazzo Martelli (now seat of the Liceo Galileo)
On March 22, 1508, at the end of what is considered Leonardo's second stay in Florence prior to his second sojourn in Milan, he still lived «in the house of Piero di Braccio Martelli» (previously mentioned by Leonardo around 1503) together with the sculptor Giovan Francesco Rustici, whom he assisted in sculpting three bronze statues to adorn the outside of the Baptistery (the Preaching of St . John). Here he began to compile a part of the Codex Arundel: «Begun in Florence in the home of Piero di Baccio Martelli on the day of March 22, 1508. And this is a collection without order taken from many papers, which I have copied here, hoping then to put them in order in their proper places, according to the matters of which they treat; and I believe that before I come to the end of this endeavour, I will have repeated the same thing several times; so that, Reader, do not criticize me, because the things are many and memory cannot retain them well enough to say: this I will not write, because I have already written it. And if I wished to avoid such an error, I would always have to read everything already written, in every case that I wanted to copy, so as not to repeat it, resulting in long intervals of time between each of the writing sessions».
At present the fourteenth-century Via degli Spadai is called Via Martelli. The residence of Piero di Braccio Martelli was encapsulated in the Scolopi boarding school (up to 1775 a Jesuit monastery), when it was enlarged in 1836. On the façade is a stone tablet commemorating Leonardo's presence here.
Texts by Alessandro Vezzosi, in collaboration with Agnese Sabato
English translation by Catherine Frost
Last update 12/feb/2008