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Amboise in the Loire is dominated by a grand chateau, its turrets reaching high into the sky and windows giving impressive views over the ancient town and the surrounding Loire Valley countryside. A few minutes’ walk away is a much smaller chateau, far less grand. It was the home of a man who changed the world with his art and his designs – the great renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci. The Chateau du Clos Lucé where Leonardo lived, has been wonderfully restored to look as it did when he arrived in 1516 at the invitation of King Francis I of France. Leonardo found himself down on his luck, without commissions and struggling to keep going in Italy. Francis I offered him his dream job: "First Painter, Engineer and Architect to the King" plus a home for life. Leonardo was a nomad, he had no home to call his own and moved from town to city – wherever the work was. He wasn’t rich, and jumped at the offer from the French King, making his way from Italy to France on a donkey. Among the belongings he took with him were his precious manuscripts, and an almost finished painting of a woman he called La Giaconda or Mona Lisa. It was to become one of the most famous paintings of all time. Francis I had never met Leonardo but his mother Louise de Savoie had seen the artist’s work and loved it. The King offered Leonardo the chance to practice his skills as he wished, quite an innovative prospect at the time when a painter was a painter and an engineer was an engineer. Leonardo’s genius extended to several areas and the opportunity to do as he wished was irresistible.
The Chateau rooms Leonardo moved into the Chateau du Clos Lucé and here he stayed until his death on 2 May 1519. The rooms have been restored with the help of specialist historians and it’s easy to imagine Leonardo in his long gown moving through the castle. On the 4-poster bed in what was Leonardo’s room where he died of old age, Minette the castle cat is fast asleep most days (above). She is oblivious to the cameras that click, capturing her utter dismissiveness of the visitors who are lost in contemplation that here, 400 years ago, Leonardo snored through the night, dreaming his dreams and planning his projects. Leonardo liked cats and it’s fitting that the pampered puss has taken up residence in his former home.
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