A tireless traveller, a stateless artist, an impatient explorer of towns, valleys and mountains, even though Leonardo travelled through much of northern Italy until reaching France, he never forgot his homeland: Vinci, his native town, and Anchiano, the fraction that adopted him in his early years. These sites are often to be seen in his drawings and projects, as well as in the background of his paintings.
On the sheet bearing the initials “8P”, now in the Uffizi Drawings and Prints Room, Leonardo made an ink sketching of a landscape, adding a pencil note on the spot. The hypothesis that this is a “true life” drawing derives from the presence of words in the artist’s own hand from right to left: “Dì di Santa Maria della neve/addì 5 d’agosto 1473“. Leonardo often visited his birthplace in Vinci, especially during his youth, before leaving for Milan. There were many reasons that tied him to the Tuscan village: the presence of his grandfather’s house and, above all, his mother Caterina’s home in the hamlet of Anchiano, a few kilometres from the town centre, where she lived with her husband Antonio di Pietro del Vacca, known in the area as the Attaccabriga (troublemaker).
On the back of the sheet, behind the scene of the Uffizi, Leonardo wrote a sentence that does not correspond to any of the images accompanying it. Next to the outline of a hill, above the drawing of some saplings and on the head of two faintly sketched figures are the words: “Io, Morando D’Antonio, sono chontento” (I, Morando D’Antonio, am happy).
Who was this Antonio with whom the artist, just twenty at the time, happily spent his time?
We cannot be certain, but it could just be his mother’s companion, if, as all scholars agree, it is true that the drawing describes a landscape around Vinci. Leonardo usually noted his moods and changing emotions with phrases that took on the form of a casual, rather vague diary. It must have seemed strange to him to be “chontento” at the home of Antonio, a man known for his bouts of bad temper, but who had looked after him during the first five years of his life.
Nobody can tell us if that sentence was written by the artist at the same time as he made the drawing, but the reference to the Attaccabriga matches perfectly with the idea that the landscape was sketched during a walk made by the young artist on 5 August 1473.
It was summer, there was no reason to stay in Florence. Leonardo was visiting Vinci and it was from here that he left to go where many of his fellow citizens went that day: Montevettolini, which is still reached from Vinci by means of an easy three-hour walk along the slopes of Montalbano, and where, in the 15th century there was already a small oratory dedicated to the Madonna della Neve. This is where Leonardo spent that day, enjoying the coolness of the hills and participating with the locals in the ceremonies commemorating the miracle of the snow in August.
It was there on August 5, 1473 that Leonardo gathered with the local inhabitants to commemorate the miracle of the summer snowfall, but above all to enjoy the view of the Valdinievole with the Fucecchio marshes in the distance.
About a kilometre from the oratory, going up Montalbano, near a lane called Via Capanne di Roncone that today leads to Fornacelle, we can identify the viewpoint from which Leonardo probably made this drawing. Right there, among the olive trees, looking towards Vinci, which stands out in the distance with its castle tower, two hills slope down to form wings framing a wide panorama, closed by the same highlands that the artist traced with paler and paler ink, finally making them disappear in the mist.
The fortified village on the left of the drawing is Larciano, facing the slopes of Montalbano at the edge of a precipice. Even though in that spot there is no view of the waterfall that Leonardo drew on the right, it could be the Le Rave stream that flows exactly in that area and falls down to lower ground similar to the waterfall evoked by Leonardo.
Text from: Costantino D’Orazio, Leonardo svelato, 2019, Sperling&Kupfer, Milan.