The Renaissance of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vineyard in Milan

Leonardo da Vinci's vineyard, and a villa, in Milan, Italy.

In 1482, Leonardo da Vinci moved to Milan, where he would work for the ruling Sforza family doing engineering, sculpting, and architectural projects, and most famously, painting his mural masterpiece, The Last Supper. Renaissance genius Leonardo also tended to his own grapevines in Milan — just across the street from the chapel in which he created The Last Supper. Incredibly, Leonardo’s vineyard was in existence for nearly four centuries.

Over time, war, fire, and poor urban planning destroyed Leonardo’s vineyard. While this historic plot of land did receive some attention in the last 100 years (see some black & white photography here), the vineyard was largely forgotten during the twentieth century. 

In early 2015 — nearly a century after the vineyard’s obliteration, and after years of research — a portion of Leonardo’s vineyard had its rebirth, thanks to a team of oenologists and scientists specializing in genetics and the study of soil.

Excavating organic matter at the site of the former vineyard, the team was able to determine the exact varietal of grape that Leonardo grew, as well as his vineyard’s original layout.

Once officials decided to reestablish the vineyard, University of Milan staff gave the new grapevines a head-start by growing and grafting them in a greenhouse. They later introduced the vines into the soil of the historic plot of land in 2015.

Intrigued by Leonardo

Ever since we met, Shawn and I have been fascinated by Leonardo’s genius. Shortly after we got engaged in 2010, we journeyed to the Loire Valley in central France, which is home to hundreds of châteaux. Of all the castles we visited there, Leonardo’s Amboise “retirement home,” The Château du Clos Lucé, was one of our favorites.

We spent several happy hours strolling Clos Lucé’s gardens and tinkering with life-sized machines — such as a tank, helicopter, and paddle wheel. These inventions were recently brought to life, thanks to Leonardo’s centuries-old sketches. As Sigmund Freud said of the Renaissance genius, Leonardo was “like a man who awoke too early in the darkness, while the others were all still asleep.”

Leonardo epitomizes the “Renaissance man” ideal because he dabbled in so many different disciplines, including anatomy, physics, mathematics, weaponry, the arts, and architecture. The child of a legal notary and peasant mother, Leonardo received no extensive formal education. However, his father set him up with an accomplished Florentine mentor who was renowned for his painting and sculpting abilities. Leonardo grew up in Tuscany, a region long celebrated for its wine production. It’s not a stretch to imagine that Leonardo might have descended from a family of winemakers.

I read the intriguing tale of the rebirth of Leonardo’s vineyard shortly before our visit to Milan. Once we arrived in Italy’s second largest city, we decided it was essential to spend part of an afternoon at the vineyards, which have been called the Museo Vigna di Leonardo. Today, this site consists of the young vines, as well as the Casa degli Atellani, or Atellani House. This private, Renaissance-era home features an elegant interior and lovely gardens.

The History of Leonardo’s Milan Vineyard

About 13 years after Leonardo moved to Milan, the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, commissioned Leonardo to paint The Last Supper in the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The project took Leonardo several years to complete, and it’s said that Sforza had hoped to eventually make the elaborate church the Sforza family’s mausoleum. In 1498, Ludovico Sforza gave Leonardo the vineyard, on a plot of land just across the street from Santa Maria delle Grazie. Later that same year, French troops invaded the Duchy of Milan. They imprisoned the Duke, Leonardo’s patron, causing Leonardo to leave Milan.

After Leonardo’s departure from Milan, the vineyards were leased by the father of Leonardo’s former apprentice, Gian Giacomo Caprotti, nicknamed Salai. Shortly thereafter, they were confiscated by the French. In 1507, the vineyard was returned to Leonardo, thanks to the intervention of Charles II of Amboise, the French king’s lieutenant in Italy.

While Leonardo did return to Milan for several additional years, he spent the last three years of his life at Clos Lucé, dying there in 1519. In his will, he left equal shares of the Milan vineyards to his apprentice, Salai, and to one of his most loyal servants, Giovanbattista Villani. About five years later, Salai ended up being killed during a duel, supposedly in or near the vineyard.

In the centuries that followed, the vineyard changed hands multiple times, being donated, sold, and virtually abandoned, along with the Casa degli Atellani, the dignified home adjacent to the vineyard. In the 1920s, fire and poor city planning further took their toll, causing the vineyard to disappear.

During World War II, the Casa degli Atellani, its gardens, and the vineyard suffered more damage during Allied bombing campaigns. Sadly, building rubble buried what was left of the vineyard site.

In 2014, after several years of research and speculation, the fragments of the vineyard’s roots were located, allowing scientists to analyze them in a laboratory setting and determine the exact variety: malvasia di candia aromatica.

As Shawn and I looked at the young vines behind the Casa degli Atellani, we tried to imagine Leonardo tending to his vineyard in that very spot centuries ago.

What remains to be seen is if any wine will eventually be produced from the malvasia vines now thriving in this historic setting.

Blank Space Blog

“The discovery of a good wine is increasingly better for mankind than the discovery of a new star.”

Leonardo da vinci

What Leonardo-related masterpieces or artifacts are some of your favorites? Have you been to any artist’s homes that you would recommend? Claude Monet’s garden & home in Giverny, France is one of my favorites, as is the Meštrović Gallery in Split, Croatia. Please share your thoughts below.

Blank Space Blog
Last Supper Santa Maria delle Grazie Milan
Leonardo da Vinci’s mural masterpiece, The Last Supper, resides here in the Santa Maria delle Grazie. We weren’t able to secure tickets to see the mural, which is housed in the chapel’s dining room, just across the street from the Casa degli Atellani (Atellani House). Leonardo’s recreated vineyard is in the home’s private garden.
The Last Supper Leonardo Da Vinci Public Domain
Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, was painted between 1495-1498, and commissioned by the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza. Image in the public domain.
Garden Vigna di Leonardo
The mosaic terrace of the Casa degli Atellani (left) and a statue in the gardens (right). This graceful home evolved over the last few hundred years, with extensive restoration work being carried out by renowned Milanese architect, Piero Portaluppi, in the twentieth century.
Garden Casa degli Atellani Vigna di Leonardo Milan

Casa degli Atellani Vigna di Leonardo Milan

Casa degli Atellani Milan Garden Statue

Casa degli Atellani Milan
Fanciful frescoes adorn the interior rooms of the Casa degli Atellani.
Casa degli Atellani Vigna di Leonardo Milan
A portrait hall featuring frescoed renditions of Sforza family personalities.
Casa degli Atellani Milan
Intricate mosaic tile-work.
Casa degli Atellani Milan
Detail of the vaulted ceiling.
Casa degli Atellani Interior Milan

Casa degli Atellani Milan Books

Casa degli Atellani Milan
Ornate, hand-carved wooden bookcases (left) and visitors listening to audioguides (right) before making it out to the much-coveted vineyard.
Casa degli Atellani Vigna di Leonardo Milan
With its ruined columns, frilly iron-work, and weathered statues, the garden is lovely to explore. We only wish we’d had more time to absorb all of the details.
Casa degli Atellani Courtyard Milan

Casa degli Atellani Vigna di Leonardo Milan

Casa degli Atellani Gardens Milan
Railing shadows (left) and the dome of Santa Maria delle Grazie peeks out above the Casa degli Atellani (right). We weren’t able to secure tickets to see The Last Supper, which is housed in the dining room of Santa Maria delle Grazie.
Leonardo da Vinci vineyard Milan
Newly-planted grapevines take root at the site of Leonardo da Vinci’s original vineyard. The white grape variety is the same one which Leonardo tended to more than five centuries ago: malvasia di candia aromatica. The grape is believed to have originated on the island of Crete.
Leonardo da Vinci grapevines Milan
The replanted vines are a fraction of a much-larger plot of vineyards – perhaps just over one hectare – once owned by Leonardo da Vinci.
Leonardo da Vinci vineyard

Casa degli Atellani Milan Dog
Even pups toured the Casa degli Atellani and strolled the gardens the afternoon of our visit.
Iron Fence Casa degli Atellani Milan

Casa degli Atellani Milan Garden

Casa degli Atellani Milano Italy

Casa degli Atellani Vigna di Leonardo Milan

Casa degli Atellani Courtyard Milan
The home’s ivy-adorned courtyard features ruined columns, busts, and a vintage Vespa.

Video of This Experience:

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • The Casa degli Atellani, which features Leonardo da Vinci’s restored vineyards in its back gardens, is located at Corso Magenta, 65, in Milan, Italy. The home is located just across the street from Santa Maria delle Grazie, the church which houses Leonardo’s The Last Supper mural. To see opening hours or make ticket reservations to see the vineyards and the Casa degli Atellani, consult the Museo Vigna di Leonardo website.
  • Our trip to Milan developed rather spontaneously, and as a result, we couldn’t secure tickets to see The Last Supper. (In Italian, this mural painting is called L’ultima cena or Il Cenacolo.) The official ticket office offers tickets for sale months in advance. It’s also possible to purchase tickets as part of a pre-arranged, private tour. When we stopped in to the ticket office to see if any last-minute tickets were available, the employees suggested we return early the next morning and wait in line. We didn’t have enough time to do this, so the next time we visit Milan we’ll be sure to book far in advance!
  • The Biblioteca Leonardiana website has digitally archived many of Leonardo’s manuscripts. This helpful site explains how to use the Biblioteca Leonardiana, which showcases fascinating drawings.
  • Need more trip-planning inspiration? This page contains an index of all my posts from Italy.

Disclosure & Thanks:

The Museo Vigna di Leonardo hosted us for this visit.

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved. Video footage is a creation of my husband, Shawn.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

45 thoughts on “The Renaissance of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vineyard in Milan

  1. Love your travel blog & video! I always wonder what ever happened yo mans genius? Leonardo was amazing..I get chills just standing observing his magnificent masterpieces!

    1. Diane, thank you for your kind words about the post and video. I’ll pass along your message to my husband, Shawn, who’s the video maker in the family. :) I regret that we weren’t able to get tickets to Leonardo’s The Last Supper, but that’s something to look forward to for next time. Which masterpieces of his have you seen in person?

    1. Ann, dankjewel – thank you! Here’s hoping you’ll get the chance to explore Milan, and Leonardo’s vineyard, someday soon. I am hoping that it will remain open, even after the 2015 Milan Expo is finished. What part of the Netherlands are you from?

      1. Ann, it seems I’ve gotten my languages wrong – I though you were Dutch. Nevertheless, we’ve enjoyed visiting your corner of the world as well. Of course, we had to glimpse the fashion choices of Manneken-Pis a few times. :)

    1. Rosemarie, like you, there’s more we want to experience in Milan as well, especially climbing to the top of the Duomo to get a closer peek of that incredible architecture.

      I’d read that the vineyard and private Casa degli Atellani were opened for the occasion of the 2015 Expo. Here’s hoping the museum will remain open even once Expo’s finished!

  2. How fascinating! I have visited The Last Supper and also the Chateau du Clos Luce (which I wrote about here, if you’re interested: ) but I had no idea that da Vinci had once tended a vineyard as well as everything else he did! When I was in Milan I also visited the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, where some of his manuscripts were on display – that was probably my favourite experience in Milan :)
    When I visited the Last Supper I had a similar problem to you: I wasn’t able to get a ticket as I didn’t book far enough in advance, however I discovered that the tickets for the red sightseeing/tourist buses included entry to the Last Supper on a special tour reserved for tourist-bus patrons. I wouldn’t normally use the tourist bus (overpriced in my opinion), but it was definitely worth buying a ticket in this case!

    1. Hi Bec, thanks so much for sharing that helpful tidbit about Last Supper tickets sometimes being included in a sightseeing bus package. Like you, we don’t generally do the hop on, hop off buses (though I did when I had a few-hour layover in London years ago), but in this case, it sounds like a wonderful approach. We are hopeful that since we’re now living in Malta that we will have the chance to return to Milan again soon. When we do, we’re eager to soak up the rooftop views of the Duomo, and also the Last Supper and Biblioteca Ambrosiana manuscripts. I’m glad to hear those were so worthwhile; we just didn’t have much time in Milan! How much time were you allowed to enjoy The Last Supper?

      1. I don’t remember exactly how much time we were allowed, but it was the same as all the other visitors. When your allocated time comes up everyone with a ticket at that time-slot enters through an air-lock door into the room with the Last Supper, then, after a certain amount of time (15-20 minutes maybe?) everyone congregates again and is led out through the air-lock on the other side of the room before the next group is led in. It’s all executed with surprising precision, but you do get a fair amount of time to admire the artwork.

      2. Bec, with so many people wishing to see the artwork, I can see why precision would be needed! We’re now living in Malta (just a short flight away from Milano) so I do hope we’ll return to Milano soon. I’ve appreciated all your pointers for how to secure a viewing of The Last Supper. Happy travels to you.

  3. And yet another heart=warming post. My heart warms because I am Italian… your pages on Italy are treasures to me. But I also enjoy your other reportages.

    1. Vera, it’s so kind of you to say that – mille grazie. While I am not aware of any Italian ancestry in my background, I’d certainly be happy to be an honorary citizen. The art history, cuisine, architecture, and landscapes of Italy never cease to capture my attention! We are not far away from Sicily, as we are now living in Malta. As a result, I’m hoping we’ll get to explore more of Sicily and of Sardinia in the coming months!

      1. I’ve only been to Naples, so I’ll be curious to hear of your adventures in Genoa and Messina. Shawn once had a cruise stop in Messina, and enjoyed his wine-tasting experience in its outskirts. :) That was before we met though.

  4. Tricia, you beautiful your images and Shawn’s video. I’m a bit confused I believe I saw “The last supper” in the Duomo of Milan some 25 years ago? I have heard about his vineyards , but haven’t been there yet. Just came back from my short trip to Germany and a few days in Stockholm, I even got to spend a day in Garmisch soon there will be up some images. Happy travelling to both of you.

    1. Greetings Cornelia! I’m wondering if you might be mixing up the Duomo with Santa Maria delle Grazie? We didn’t make it inside either building, but Leonardo’s mural is inside the latter building. After as much travel as you’ve done in Europe, I suppose the architecture of some cathedrals and churches can start to blur. :)

      I’m happy to hear that your trip to Germany and Sweden was a success! How was the weather while you were in Oberbayern? We just left Germany one week ago, for Malta, where Shawn will be studying. We’re excited to plant roots on this gorgeous little island for a while. Vielen dank, as always, for your encouraging words! :) Until next time.

      1. Thank you Tricia. The weather was great on my trip. Now you are in Malta, that’s one of the many on my wandering list, I bet it’s really beautiful. After I have taken a break from blogging, but I’m back again. Are you considering to spend the winter time in Malta? Many greeting to you both.

      2. Cornelia, well, if you come to Malta in the somewhat near future, we’ll be living here and I can show you around. Shawn is studying at the university in Malta, and so we are now on the ground, looking for an apartment. Indeed, it is beautiful, but we have not gotten a chance to experience much of its charm yet, since we’ve been attending to bureaucratic details, which can drive one “bureaucrazy”. I’m so happy to hear that you were treated to good weather on your recent voyage! Europe’s mountainous areas can have such iffy weather. :)

      3. Thank you Tricia for your response. How wonderful that Shawn is studying there. Once I had met a photographer you studied in Malta, something like photo journalism and she had great skills. Well I can only imaging that the “bureaucrazy” must be hard to hit the “walls”. Wish you both good luck and looking forward to your pictures of your new discoveries of this Island. My next trip will be India in January, uhh so much to do.

      4. Your trip is just around the corner then, Cornelia. How long will you be in India? The light here is pretty magical – a photographer’s dream, I’d say. In fact, a lot of movies have, and continue to be filmed here too. I’ll have some dispatches about the island coming soon; just need to complete the settling-in part. :)

  5. What a beautiful experience! I have looked at replicas of The Last Supper my whole life, but to see it in person was just extraordinary. However apart from that my first and only experience of Milan wasn’t the greatest and really didn’t have me particularly wanting to go back, especially in comparison with other areas such as Florence or Venice. Reason being apart from sites such as the Duomo di Milano and The Last Supper…I felt that the hustle and bustle of Milan’s city life took away that serenity that permeates smaller places like Florence. Therefore thank you for opening my eyes to Leonardo’s vineyard and showing me another side of Milan.

    1. Hi Kimberly, thanks for sharing your experience about your time in Milan; it was one to which I could relate, especially when I reminisce about our somewhat-stressful arrival in Milan following a long and tiring train journey. I think you were spot-on when you mentioned the “hustle and bustle” of Milan making it difficult to soak up calmer moments there. That regularly seems to be a challenge in the world’s largest cities, places where visitors are naturally drawn given the concentration of attractions. We did not spend enough time in Milan to get to know too many of its quieter places, where I expect locals are drawn. I guess that means we’ll have to network with a few more of them in advance of our next trip. We’ve been curious about checking out some of the newer online companies that match diners with locals who prepare meals in their homes. (While I have not tried it, EatWith comes to mind.) That would be a fun way to chat with locals and get the scoop on a city’s serene spots! Have you given such sites a whirl?

  6. Beautiful post and very nice photos. I’ve never seen Museo Vigne even if I live close to Milan. I really should go there and visit this nice place. In my blog I wrote something about Milan and Monza, it would be really nice to see you among my posts. Sorry for my english, have a nice evening Bea

    1. Ciao Bea & mille grazie for your kind words! A few Italian readers have now written to say that they live near Milano, but were surprised to learn about the new museum, and the opportunity to see Leonardo’s replanted vines. As someone who lives close to Milano, what are some favorite attractions there that you enjoy? I’d welcome your recommendations for towns and attractions in Milan’s outskirts as well!

      Finally, your English is quite good. Someday, I would like to learn Italian, but at the moment, I just know the basics. :-) We are now living on Malta, and I’m delighted to increase my Italian vocabulary, thanks to all the supermarket products which are written in Italian.

    1. Dorothy, yes, there is a lot of charm in the renaissance of something thought once lost to the ages. I imagine how special it would be to someday sample the vineyard’s wine! Hope you’re having a lovely week – thank you for reading!

  7. Recently I saw a documentary about Leonardo’s vineyard, and i was really surprised ’cause, even if i live in the nearby, i didn’t know anything about it! Great article and video you made!Cris

    1. Ciao Cris! At the moment, I think Leonardo’s vineyard is a bit “under the radar” because it was so recently opened. Perhaps you’ll have to make a trip from Piacenza to Milan to visit it someday soon. Do you visit Milano often?

      1. Ciao Tricia! yes, sure, it’s big news, so no wonder about the fuss towards it ;D
        I’ll go on a one-day trip to visit, maybe in spring. Sure, I’ll go also this friday evening, for the night show at EXPO.

      2. less crowded i don’t believe, but after friday I’ll make a post on my blog … so …you could read my impressions :)

    1. Jenna, my hubby, Shawn, will be happy to hear your kind words about his video creation; thanks on his behalf! I know Italy is one of your favorite areas, so I hope you may someday soon be on a road leading you to Milano, and to this worthwhile site on the Leonardo trail. :)

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