The project of Leonardo da Vinci for Milan’s Cathedral: paid 40 lire and then withdrawn

The “sick dome” needs a “doctor architect” to cure it. A certain Leonardo around 1487 comes forward to heal the Duomo of Milan, which is in a critical phase of the works. He proposes an idea, he also charges the Veneranda Fabbrica 40 lire and 16 soldi, manufactures and delivers a model but then withdraws it, takes a step back. He doesn’t think he’s found the right solution and also the clients are not satisfied. It happens, even if your name is Leonardo da Vinci. But would the structure sketched by the Genius on a few sheets of notes have stood? That’s the question to which the Veneranda Fabbrica will try to answer on Monday, in the afternoon of studies on “The Cathedral at the time of Leonardo”, which will be held in the Cathedral, in the weekdays’ chapel. It is one of the appointments scheduled for the 500 years from the death of the Genius. “And the first of a series of three events that we will dedicate to Leonardo,” discloses monsignor Gianantonio Borgonovo, archpriest of the Duomo.

Maddalena Peschiera, archivist in the shadow of the spires, helps us to reconstruct the context. “At the end of 1400, the construction site is stalling, she says, the vault that unites the nave to the transept must be closed, making a lantern”, that is, the structure which today is topped by the spire with the Madonnina. With a public competition, the best architects and engineers of the time are involved, and even Leonardo, who is based in Milan, participates spontaneously. Some sketches, at the basis of his proposal, have come to us. It is on these sheets that there’s also a draft of a letter intended for but perhaps never delivered to the deputies of the Veneranda. Leonardo addresses the directors of the Factory proposing himself as a “medical architect” who knows well the construction’s rules and is resolute to heal the “sick dome”. He has a wooden model made, on which he put hands many times. It is not an easy thing, for the time, to create a lantern of that size, on a building designed and made by others and besides, having to maintain the pointed arches typical of the Gothic style. Leonardo finally decides to withdraw the model, promising to submit it again. He won’t keep his word and will leave it to others to heal the Cathedral “illness”.

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