Leonardo’s family’s farms and the lands of the Counts Guidi in Vinci

Leonardo’s family’s farms and the lands of the Counts Guidi in Vinci

The lands and farms acquired by Leonardo's father, a very successful notary highly active in Florence, were scattered about the hills around Vinci, which was originally the castle of the Counts Guidi. The gentle hills of the ancient castle district became the most familiar landscape to the young Leonardo, who spent the first years of his life here. The lands owned by the da Vinci family were found primarily in the communities of San Pantaleo, of Santa Lucia a Paterno, of San Lorenzo a Streda, and of Santa Croce. The churches of these communities, and the others that punctuated the countryside around Vinci, all once belonged to the powerful noble family. The infant Leonardo was baptized in the castle church.

  • The castle of Vinci is one of the best preserved of the Guidi fortresses in the Lower Valdarno. The history of its origins coincides with that of the powerful noble family, rooted in partibus Greti since the end of the 11th century. Leonardo, who was certainly baptized in the church of Santa Croce, was raised by his father's family, who lived in the village of the castle. The houses of the da Vinci family have been identified in the building at the corner between the current Via Roma and Piazzetta Guazzesi. Today the castle houses the spaces of the Museo Leonardiano and a rich series of 'Vincian places', through which we can retrace some of the moments of his life, and the appeals of the suggestiveness of some of his works.

  • Santa Croce was the parish church of notary ser Piero da Vinci’s family. It was here that his son Leonardo, not legitimate, but firstborn, was baptized in April 1452. Of the church frequented by the da Vinci family, nothing remains but the title: the current building, in fact, is the result of the radical reconstruction of the ancient Vinci church that originally belonged to the Counts Guidi. Preserved inside, however, is the ancient baptismal font where the baptismal ceremony for the newly born Leonardo took place. In the community of Santa Croce, Leonardo’s family had several farms, of which traces remain today in the names of some of the farmhouses dotting the Vinci hills.

  • The ancient community of Santa Lucia a Paterno included, during Leonardo’s time, the hamlet of Anchiano, the place where the farm house stands today that tradition recognizes as Leonardo's birthplace. The church of Santa Lucia, which is conserved in 18th-century forms, has absorbed this Leonardian memory from the beginning of the last century, transmitted through a plaque that recalls it as the church where Leonardo was baptized, an event that actually occurred at the church of the Santa Croce in Vinci. However, the church of Paterno was the parish of the family branch of one of Leonardo's half-brothers, Guglielmo di ser Piero da Vinci, who requested, in his will, to be buried in the small church of Santa Lucia.

  • The church of San Lorenzo in Arniano belonged in the middle of the 13th century to the powerful family of the Counts Guidi. It was located on one of the hills of the Montalbano slope facing the Val di Streda, and today there remains an ephemeral trace in the structures of a ruined farmhouse along a local road that still bears the name of San Lorenzo. Leonardo knew these places very well, as his family owned lands and estates in the area. The waterways of the community of San Lorenzo in Arniano were depicted with great precision by Leonardo, who had projected the construction, downstream, of an artificial lake.

  • The ancient community of San Bartolomeo a Streda was situated, from the origins, on the border between the territories of Cerreto and Vinci. On the slopes of the gentle hills on which the church of San Bartolomeo lies today, well preserved in the aspect that it must have had, roughly, in the times of Leonardo, the da Vinci family owned its most productive vineyards. In the list of properties declared by Leonardo's father in 1469, was the podere della chosta (Chosta farm), with an overall value of 1000 florins, and which, according to what was declared, yielded 40 barrels of wine per year.

  • The village of San Zio has ancient origins. The name derives from the saint’s name San Senzio by which the small village was known, depending in the early Middle Ages on the ancient parish church of Cerreto. This small town, located on the hills overlooking Cerreto Guidi, still shows the landscape of the rural countryside that Leonardo must have seen even in his day. On these gentle hills, still rich with vineyards, Leonardo's father declared that he owned houses and plots of land in the towns of a Riminutoli and a Creti. A century later, at the time when the Medici villa of Cerreto was being projected, the lands and farmhouses of San Zio were bought in quantity by the Grand Duke Cosimo I.

  • At Campo Zeppi, where today there is a group of farmhouses, lived Caterina, Leonardo's mother, together with the family of the man she married, originally from San Pantaleo, known at the time as l’Attaccabriga (the quarrel seeker). These places, very ancient in origin, seem crystallized in the landscape of those times: the church of San Pantaleo was the parish church of Caterina, as well as of the other inhabitants of the houses of Campo Zeppi, and the vineyards are the same ones that Leonardo could see when he went to visit his mother. Among the plots of terrain of the San Pantaleo vineyards, Leonardo could have observed the particular geological formations rich in fossils of marine origin, which he referred to as "nichi” (fossil shells).

  • Orbignano has very ancient origins. It was a village of the bishop of Pistoia, and maintained this link until the 13th century, as a small rural municipality in the district of Pistoia. In Leonardo’s time, however, this part of Montalbano had already passed under the government of Florence, over a century earlier, so that the lands at Orbignano belonging to the da Vinci family were then situated within the municipality of Vinci. The Costereccia farm in Orbignano became the residence of the branch of the family of notary Domenico di Ser Piero da Vinci, one of Leonardo's half-brothers, for more than two centuries. All his descendants, and perhaps Domenico himself, were buried in the cloister of the church of Santa Maria al Pruno.

  • The church of Santa Maria in Faltognano, on the slopes of Montalbano, once belonged to the castle district of Vinci. The inhabitants of the small groups of houses on these hills, well known by Leonardo, were part of the church of Faltognano. In these areas some of the da Vinci family farms and lands stood. The names of those places, such as La Noce, Il Capannile,and Podere Santa Maria, are well preserved in the current toponymy and can be recognized, among other things, with the same names, in the 16th century maps of the Capitani di Parte Guelfa.

  • The rural parish church of Sant'Ansano is one of the topographic landmarks that Leonardo reported, accompanied by the toponym santosano, on the famous bird's eye view map of Montalbano conserved in the Windsor Castle Collection (RLW 12685). The origins of the parish church, one of the oldest in the diocese of Pistoia, date back to the 10th century, but the church that Leonardo viewed must have corresponded roughly to the Romanesque building we can see today, even after the post-World War II restorations. Inside we can admire the series of figured capitals decorating the columns of the central nave and the marble baptismal font attributed to Baccio da Montelupo.

  • The Leonardian project of an artificial lake that was to be created just below the castle of Vinci is to be considered the only work Leonardo designed for his native land. Leonardo’s idea, represented on three different maps, provided for the creation of a basin fed by the waters of three brooks that descended from Montalbano, blocked off downstream by a barrage. The watercourses involved in this project, which we can recognize perfectly, had long been defended by the municipal authorities. It may have been a public project, probably related to the use of the mechanical force of water for driving the water wheels of the mills that dotted the valleys of the lands of Leonardo.