Italy’s contribution to our global cultural history is hard to overstate – the great painters of the Renaissance left a legacy that still shapes our understanding of the art world today. 2019 is a banner year for arts and culture in the country, with celebrations and exhibitions celebrating this artistic heritage and looking forward to the art of the future.
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, the ultimate Renaissance man, whose imagination and thirst for knowledge is still marvelled at, half a century on. Celebrations for the occasion are split between France and Italy, but to really understand the Renaissance mindset consider planning an art-themed trip to Italy.

To get a taste of the great artist’s works, head to Milan where da Vinci lived in for 17 years, Florence, where’s there’s a museum dedicated to his forward-thinking machines, or Rome, where a new exhibition celebrates his work.

2019 is also an Art Biennale year in Venice – where some of the biggest names in contemporary art congregate to show off their works in their country’s pavilion.

To see some of Da Vinci’s great masterpieces for yourself – and to have tickets, transport and everything else taken care of – take a look at our new Art & Culture in Italy trip, designed by local expert Teresa.

The_Last_Supper_Leonardo_Da_Vinci_WikimediaCommonsThe Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci © Wikimedia Commons/public domain

Visit Milan to see some of Leonardo’s Masterpieces in situ

Da Vinci moved to Milan aged 30, and stayed for 17 years. This period of his life was extremely productive and some of his most famous works remain in the city – frescoes that still decorate the original walls they were painted on. The most famous is, of course, The Last Supper, painted on a wall in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. You’ll need to buy a ticket in advance to see the work, but it’s well worth the effort.

For the first time in six years, visitors can also see de Vinci’s “lost” Mulberry Trees mural, painted on the walls and ceiling of the Sala delle Asse in Sforza Castle – where de Vinci stayed for a time. The duke, Ludovico Sforza, was one of his patrons. The intricate mural depicting a forest of trees covers the whole room, and was only unearthed during the past decade, after layers of whitewash were removed from the walls. Restoration work has been going on continuously since 2013, but the work will be paused until January 2020, in celebration of the anniversary.

In addition, the castle is staging two further exhibitions – a selection of original drawings on display until August, and a multimedia tour exploring da Vinci’s legacy in the city which also runs until January. .

Santa Maria delle Grazie, MilanThe Santa Maria del Grazie convent cloisters © Claudio Giovanni Colombo/Shutterstock

Test out da Vinci’s inventions in Florence

If you’re holidaying in Italy as a family, the kids will love the Leonardo da Vinci Museum in Florence, where you can test out some of the artist/inventor’s creations. It’s unique in that visitors are positively encouraged to play with the inventions, a welcome change for any child that has been dragged around multiple “Do Not Touch” museums. There’s his 15th-century version of a tank, flying machine, underwater diving apparatus and more, plus a room where kids (and adults) can try out some of his building techniques for themselves.

The Uffizi – Florence’s unparalleled Renaissance gallery – has a whole room dedicated to the artist, with works including the Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi. You can also pay homage to the great man by visiting the sculpture of him in the colonnade outside the museum, where many of Italy’s great artists and writers are celebrated. In the nearby Piazza della Signoria is the Palazzo Vecchio, where if you look closely you might see the profile of a man’s face chiseled into the wall to the right of the entrance. Some believe this is da Vinci’s unofficial signature while others contest is was Michelangelo. Whoever is right, this piece of graffiti has endured for 500 years.

Image of Palazzo Vecchio in FlorenceThe Palazzo Vecchio in Florence © Wolfgang Zwanzger/Shutterstock

See Leonardo’s Scientific Discoveries in Rome

Leonardo da Vinci - Saint Jerome

Artist, sculptor, inventor… and scientist. To explore this latter aspect of da Vinci’s genius set a course for Rome, and a new exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale, until the end of June. The exhibition, titled La scienza prima della scienza, or Science before Science, brings together drawings and notebooks filled with da Vinci’s discoveries, and also looks at his collaboration with other great thinkers of the time including Francesco di Giorgio Martini and Donato Bramante.

The exhibition also includes the only book proven to have been Leonardo’s personal possession, with handwritten annotations in the margin, and investigates the development of the Leonardo myth as experienced in popular culture today.

The Vatican is also celebrating the anniversary by allowing the public to see da Vinci’s celebrated painting Saint Jerome (pictured left) free of charge, until June 22 at the Braccio di Carlo Magno exhibition space in St Peter’s Square.

For a taste of contemporary art, head to Venice

Bring yourself right back to the 21st century at the Venice Art Biennale, held at the Arsenale and Giardini in the east of the city’s Castello district, from now until the end of November.

Held every two years, this year’s theme is May You Live in Interesting Times, with exhibits including Christoph Büchel’s Barca Nostra, a recovered fishing boat that capsized in 2015 drowning hundreds of migrants on board. The boat was raised by the Italian navy from its shipwreck site off Libya before being transformed through its display into a piece of Duchamp-style “Readymade” art. Reviews of the piece have been mixed, with some accusing Büchel of trivialising the plight of migrants,  but whatever your take, it’s certainly impactful.

Above Left: Leonardo da Vinci's Saint Jerome. Photo: public domain.

Top image: Leonardo Da Vinci statue by Luigi Pampaloni located in the Uffizi courtyard in Florence © zummolo/Shutterstock



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