The Château du Clos Lucé (or simply Clos Lucé) is a small château in the city of Amboise, France. Originally designed in 1471 as a former stronghold under the castle of Amboise, it passes in several hands before being purchased by Charles VIII and become a summer residence of the kings of France. He will keep this function until 1516 when Francis I puts it at the disposal of Leonardo da Vinci, who will live there three years, until his death on May 2, 1519.
Clos Lucé is located at 500 metres from the royal Château d’Amboise, to which it is connected by an underground passageway. Built by Hugues d’Amboise in the middle of the fifteenth century, it was acquired in 1490 by Charles VIII of France for his wife, Anne de Bretagne. Later, it was used by Francis I, as well as his sister Marguerite de Navarre, who began writing her book entitled L’Heptaméron while living there.
In 1516, King Francis I of France invited Leonardo da Vinci to Amboise and provided him with the Clos Lucé, then called Château de Cloux, as a place to stay and work. Leonardo, a famous painter and inventor, arrived with three of his paintings, namely the Mona Lisa, Sainte Anne, and Saint Jean Baptiste. Leonardo lived at the Clos Lucé for the last three years of his life, and died there on 2 May 1519.
Today, the Clos Lucé is a Leonardo da Vinci museum that reflects the prestigious history of the region and includes forty models of the various machines designed by Leonardo. The Château du Clos Lucé is today a place of interpretation, knowledge and synthesis that aims to allow the wider public to discover the world of Leonardo da Vinci. The museum also includes a copy of the Mona Lisa, painted by himself.”
From the Middle Ages to the Renaissance
During the middle age (1214 – 1417) the domain belongs to the Amboise family, who gave the land of Cloux as a gift to the religious Cistercian order of Moncé, an abbey founded in Limeray, under the protection of the lords of Amboise.
The saga of this pink bricks and freestone domain, built over gallo-roman foundations, begins under the reign of Louis XI, in 1471. Given by the king to his favourite Etienne le Loup, an ennobled kitchen man, the Château du Cloux was surrounded by fortified walls. The place is then bought by Charles VIII on July the 2 nd 1490 to become the summer residence of the kings of France.
The king turns the fortress into a pleasure castle and builds an oratory, true jewel of the gothic architecture, for his wife Queen Anne de Bretagne. The young duke of Angoulême, future king Francis I, spends a lot of time in this château.
At the end of the XVII century, the Château du Clouxis named Château du Clos Lucé. It’s recovered by the Amboise Family who saves it from destruction during the revolution, and then, in 1854, it becomes part of the Saint Bris Family.
In 1471,King Louis XI gives the domain of Cloux, known today as the Château du Clos Lucé, to a former ennobled kitchen boy named Etienne le Loup. He built the Château du Clos Lucé with bricks and freestone, as well as one of France’s most beautiful dovecotes, untouched until today. Inside you’ll hear the flapping of the thousand birds it used to shelter.
In 1490, The Clos Lucé becomes the summerhouse of the kings of France. Charles VIII asks for a chapel to be built for his young wife, Queen Anne de Bretagne, who comes to mourn the loss of her young children. The chapel is decorated with four frescos, including the Annunciation, which was painted by Leonardo’s pupils. The Virgin of light, « Virgo Lucis », above the door, may have given the site its current name: Château du Clos Lucé.
In 1516-1519, King Francis I and Louise de Savoie invite Leonardo da Vinci to Amboise.
King Francis I, passionate by Leonardo da Vinci’s talent, names him “ Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect of the King” and offers him the enjoyment of the Château of Clos Lucé, located only a few meters away from the Château d’Amboise. The national archives in Paris own a certificate for payement mentioning the pension from Francis I to Leonardo da Vinci « To Master Lyenard de Vince, Italian painter, the sum of 2000 ecussoleil, for his pension of two years ».
Leonardo spends the last three years of his life at the Château of Clos Lucé and works on several projects for the king of France, surrounded by his students. He welcomes prestigious visitors like the Cardinal of Aragon, great men of the kingdom, Italian ambassadors and fellow artists present in the king’s court, like Domenico da Cortona, known as the Boccador and Chambord’s future architect.
An underground passage between the two castles allowsboth men to meet frequently. Today, only the first meters are still visible.
After a fascinating relationship between Leonardo da Vinci and three French Kings(Charles VIII, Louis XII and Francis I), the Italian Master passes away on May the 2 nd 1519 in his room at the Château du Clos Lucé.
Leonardo da Vinci at the Clos Lucé Castle
In 1516, at the age of 64, Leonardo da Vinci left Rome, crossed Italy, bringing in his leather satchels all his notebooks of drawings and three famous paintings: The Mona Lisa, The Virgin, the Infant Jesus and St. Anne and Saint Jean Baptiste. These three paintings are now preserved in the Louvre Museum. His disciples Francesco Melzi and Salai accompany him to France, as well as his servant, Batista de Vilanis. According to Benvenuto Cellini, the king gives him a pension of 700 gold crowns, which also pays for the works he completes, and puts at his disposal the Château du Clos Lucé. He calls him “First Painter, Engineer and Architect of the King” 8. At Clos Lucé Castle, Leonardo da Vinci is very prolific. He works on many projects: organizes the court festivities in Amboise, designs plans for the ideal city of Romorantin and the staircase double revolution Chambord9. It plans to connect the Loire Valley to Lyonnais by a system of canals. He is considered one of the best painters of his time.
On October 10, 1517, Leonardo da Vinci receives the visit of Cardinal Louis of Aragon. His secretary Antonio de Beatis, describes this visit in his Itinerario:
“Messer Leonardo da Vinci, over 70 years old, excellent painter of our time, who showed three paintings to Our Lordship, one of a Florentine lady, made to the natural, at the request of the late Magnificent Julien II, another of Saint John the Baptist young, and a Virgin with the Child, who are on the knees of Saint Anne; all three are of rare perfection. It is true that due to a paralysis of the right hand, we can not wait for a masterpiece from him.
On June 19, 1518, Leonardo da Vinci organizes a party at the Château du Clos Lucé to thank the king for his benefits. She takes up some of the ideas that Leonardo da Vinci used for the Feast of Paradise in Milan, January 13, 1490 (Festa del paradisio, play of the poet Bernardo Bellincioni (in)). A machinery evoked the race of the stars: a capital was erected and a blue painted canvas was erected, representing the celestial vault with the planets, the sun, the moon and the twelve signs of the zodiac.
Ambassador Galeazzo Visconti reported in a letter that “the Most Christian King made banquet in an admirable celebration […]. The place was the Cloux, very beautiful and grand palace. The court was covered with blue-sky sheets, then there were the main planets, the sun on one side and the moon on the opposite side […]. There were 400 candelabra with two branches, and so illuminated that it seemed that the night was driven away.
Leonardo da Vinci died in his bedroom at the Château du Clos Lucé on May 2, 1519, bequeathing his manuscripts, sketchbooks and sketches to his beloved disciple, Francesco Melzi. The invented scene where the painter died in the arms of Francis I was the subject of many paintings, including The Death of Leonardo da Vinci Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, now preserved at the Petit Palais.
From the Renaissance to the present day
After the death of Leonardo da Vinci, Louise de Savoie takes possession of the premises. Philibert Babou La Bourdaisière and his wife, nicknamed the beautiful Babou (a favorite of Francis I), resided there from 1523. Michel de Gast, captain of the Guards of Henry III, who participated in the assassination of the Cardinal of Guise becomes the owner of the Domaine du Clos Lucé in 1583.
The castle then returns to the House of Amboise in 1632, by the marriage of Antoine d’Amboise with the grand-daughter of Michel de Gast. During the French Revolution, the castle narrowly escaped looting thanks to the opposition of Henri-Michel d’Amboise. The castle remains in the family of Amboise until 1832. As a house of Leonardo da Vinci, it is the subject of a classification as historical monuments by the list of 1862.
The castle is owned by the Saint Bris family on July 30, 1855. Hubert Saint Bris decides to open it to the public in 1954.
Description of the castle today
The castle is located in the heart of a 7-hectare park crossed by the Amasse, a small tributary of the Loire. The facade, in pink bricks and white stones, has hardly changed since the Renaissance18. An old walkway remains of the time. In the castle, we discover the room of Leonardo da Vinci, his kitchen, the council room, the oratory of Anne of Brittany and the room of Marguerite de Navarre. The room where Leonardo da Vinci died and Marguerite de Navarre’s room, restored in 2011 and decorated with period furniture and objects, are on the first floor.
In 1492, King Charles VIII built for his wife the oratory of Anne of Brittany, Gothic chapel stone tufa. The oratory is decorated with murals subsequently made by Leonardo da Vinci’s disciples: an Annunciation, a Last Judgment and a Virgin of Light, called Virgo Lucis, located above the door, which would have given its name at Clos Lucé.
Forty models made by IBM according to the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci are presented in four rooms of the basement. 3D animations are also presented in the model rooms. They allow to understand the functioning of Leonardo’s inventions and to see them come to life.
We find in the park a dovecote built in the fifteenth century by Estienne le Loup, bailiff of Amboise. The dovecote housed a thousand niches for the pigeons. A cultural course was set up in the Château du Clos Lucé park in 2003 by Jean Saint Bris, with sound bells and 20 giant machines inspired by his sketches. A garden presents Leonardo’s work on plants, as well as a two-level bridge, made from a sketch by the artist.
Facing the young artists of the Italian Renaissance, Raphael and Michelangelo, on fall 1516, Leonardo da Vinci accepts the invitation of the king at 64 years old and travelsthrough the Alps on the back of a mule with some of his pupils, including Francesco Melzi and Battista de Villanis his faithful Milanese servant. He also brings with him his major paintings: Monna Lisa, the Virgin and the Child and St.John the Baptist as well as his notes, sketches and manuscripts, later gathered in the codex, today spread throughout the world.
Codex Arundel, London, British Library
Codex Atlanticus, Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana
Codex Forster, London, Victoria and Albert Museum
Codex Trivulzianus, Milano, Castello Sforzesco
Codex of Madrid, Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional
Codex of Turin, or Codex about bird’s flight, Turin, Biblioteca Reale
Manuscripts A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L, M, Paris, Institut de France
Codex Leicester, Bill Gates private collection
Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile comes to the Château du Clos Lucé
According to an account by the secretary to the Cardinal of Aragon, who was visiting the Château du Clos Lucé, they saw, “the painting of a Florentine woman, done from life, at the instance of Giuliano de’ Medici.” Painted between 1503 and 1514, this work is an example of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous sfumato technique, in which the edges are blurred and softened.
Leonardo’s bedchamber looked out on the Château Royal d’Amboise. It was in this house that he wrote his will, bequeathing his manuscripts and notebooks of drawings and sketches to his beloved disciple Franceso Melzi. He passed away in his bedchamber on 2 May 1519.
The bedchamber of Marguerite de Navarre, the elder sister of Francis I, has been fully restored and furnished in the 16th-century style. Her portrait by François Clouet, official painter to the king, is on show in one of the display cabinets.
The oratory of Anne of Brittany, the wife of Charles VIII, is decorated with four frescoes, including one of the Annunciation painted by disciples of Leonardo. Above the door, the Virgin of Light, Virgo Lucis, is thought to have been the inspiration for the château’s new name: Le Clos Lucé.
On the ground floor of the building, find the Leonardo Da Vinci’s living workshops. Discover the ambiance of the bottegas that were typical of the Renaissance in his artist’s studio. In the library, facsimiles from the Institut de France and ancient texts are aligned alongside an astonishing cabinet of curiosities. Swept away, an audiovisual production that uses “ghost technology” is projected.
In this artist’s house, from his workshop, Leonardo da Vinci thinks, invents and conceives royal requests:
The ideal city of Romorantin destined to become the capital of the kingdom.
The double helix staircase of the Château de Chambord that he inspired.
A network of locks and canals connecting the Val de Loire to Lyon,for a swifter access to Italy.
The draining of Sologne’s swamps
The staging for spectacular royal celebrations, he imagines many automatons like the « Lys flower spitting lion ».
Movable houses for the itinerant court.
« Because the soup is getting cold, etcaetera. » this sentence would have been found in one of Leonardo’s writings. Imagine entering the unchanged kitchen and see Leonardo getting warm next to the high stone hearth whileMathurine, his servant from Tours, prepares his vegetarian meal.
Leonardo has a healthy nutrition, according to him « sobriety, healthy meals and a proper sleep will keep you in good health».
The four visitor rooms in the basement provide insight into the comprehensive knowledge of Leonardo da Vinci the engineer. 3D animations and 40 models show the diverse range of Leonardo da Vinci’s intuitive grasp of engineering: aeroplane, automobile, helicopter, tank, and more.
Self-taught man, Leonardo da Vinci is one of the firsts to invent experimental science. He elaborates a new way of learning, away from his books, by observing nature and finding his answers in it.
At Le Clos Lucé, Leonardo’s garden was imagined the same way: all the answers to the questions about the Master are here, accessible to children and grown ups.
The trees, plants and even the moving water described on the codex and paintings come back to life in this garden dedicated to nature. Rocks, caves, streams, waterfalls, misty effects reminding the sfumato technique… Here, even the slightest details of his work are brought to life.
Walk around the pond surrounded by centuries-old pines, Italian cypresses and yews. There, admire madonna lilies, yellow irises, horned violets, European alders, cyclamen repandums, and of course, the famous Mona Lisarose.
As Leonardo used to say: « It’s all here. »
This unique open-air museum is born thanks to the competition of a two years research on a corpus of science collecting all of Leonardo da Vinci’s work on nature.
Leonardo da Vinci park:
In the Park Leonardo da Vinci, experience the creative universe of the Master
As you walk, you meet Leonardo the engineer, Leonardo the visionary and Leonardo the painter and architect. In the park, climb aboard the assault chariot, action the aerial screw, manipulate the multi-barrelled gun, sail on the paddle boat and walk on the revolving bridge and the twenty meters high double-span bridge, all crafted the original way. Because the models are the actual size, they offer an authentic experience to both children and adults. Look at the forty translucent canvasses suspended to the trees, each one three to four meters tall.
Discover the bright faces, the beautiful bodies, the mechanics of life, the technical projects of the ideal city… Let the voice of Jean Piat, from the ComédieFrançaise, guide you as he plays the role of the Master throughout your visit.
The Leonardo da Vinci park is a unique journey among the genius’s pieces of work.