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10 May May 2017 1524 4 months ago

Eight lire for Leonardo da Vinci

The story of a great friendship which developed between two masters within the Duomo di Milano

The Archives of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano preserve newspaper articles, reports, and studies dating from the beginning of the 20th century. These provide important evidence regarding famous historical figures, events, and cultural activities and reveal many surprises and interesting facts, such as the following...

Franchino Gaffurio, born in Lodi in 1451, solemnly celebrated in his city of birth for his musical compositions. Leonardo da Vinci, born in Anchiano just a few months after Gaffurio, a man of exceptional ingenuity and talent in all of the arts and sciences. What ties these two historical figures together?

The two met at a very young age, “wise beyond their years due to their great intelect and power of reasoning", and worked together in Milan, each involved with the Fabbrica's infinite construction. The first piece of news regarding Gaffurio in Milan dates from 1484, the year in which he was appointed cantor of the Duomo, music teacher to Lodovico Sforza's sons, and first ducal cantor. For 28 years he was director and conductor of the Duomo's Musical Chapel, producing 4 great codices which are preserved to this day in the Veneranda Fabbrica's Archives.

Leonardo da Vinci arrived in Milan in 1482, when they were figuring out how to lift the vaulted structure onto four central pillars found at the intersection of the central and transverse naves. To this end, on 30 July 1497 the Veneranda Fabbrica paid carpenter Bernardino di Abbiate a small sum for his composition and, 8 days later, 8 lire to da Vinci, who had accepted the job of preparing a wooden model of the tiburio, or lantern tower, which he delivered 2 years later without a positive outcome. The Fabbrica's architects didn't like it and the artist took it back so that he could complete it. Da Vinci had focused on a dynamic solution, based on a balance of forces, while the solution which the Fabbrica's architects adopted was essentially static, based on a total verticality, in keeping with the restrictions and with the building traditions and laws of proportion which the Duomo usually adopted.

For 20 years da Vinci continued to work sporadically for the Cathedral of Milan, and it was here that the friendship between he and the priest from Lodi was born.

Angelo Ciceri (Archivist of the Veneranda Fabbrica) even speculates that the two borrowed each others books and that Leonardo drew the sketches for the engravings of Gaffurio's theory books. In the engraving in which the conductor of the Chapel is depicted amongst his students, the figure strongly resembles the portrait of the musician preserved in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana and which was attributed for many years to De Petris, a student of Leonardo's, but which was later recognized by critics to be the work of the great artist himself.

These documents and many other interesting studies can be found in the Archives of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano, open to the public Tuesday to Friday from 9:30am to 5:30pm, by appointment only. Write to: archivio@duomomilano.it or call 0272022656 ext. 117.