We all know Leonardo da Vinci as one of the most important figures of the Renaissance.
Scientist, mathematician, painter, and musician…he always impressed everybody around him with his accomplishments. As a young man he was tall, handsome, athletic, wore his hair long and dressed eccentrically. But another aspect of his personality was his homosexuality, although never explicit and open, it was central to his life and many of the important decisions that he made.
There was never a record of Leonardo having a relationship with a woman but there are many well documented close relationships with men, including with Gian Giacomo Caproti (known as Salai) who entered his workshop in Milan as young apprentice. Leonardo used to call him his little devil for his impish behavior and, with his enchanting curly hair, he was the model for Leonardo’s “John the Baptist”.
It is often speculated that Salai could have been the model for the “Mona Lisa” but that is not the general consensus in the art world. He was the painter of the “Monna Vanna”, or the nude Mona Lisa and he possibly also painted the copy of the Mona Lisa which is now at the Prado museum in Madrid. As he grew up he became Leonardo’s close confidant. They would travel together, and records show they gathered inspiration from each other in a relationship that lasted almost 30 years. Salai did not even marry until 4 years after Leonardo’s death, only to die from a duel injury soon after.
Leonardo spent more time in Milan than in any other city in his life, broken into two separate periods. He first arrived there to work in the court of Ludovico Sforza to work on an equestrian statue of enormous proportions commissioned to be in honor to Francesco Sforza. He worked on this project for several years in the Castello Sforzesco but before the clay model was forged into bronze it was destroyed during an accidental explosion.
The Castello also features Leonardo’s frescos of the Salon of the Axis, where he painted intricate plants, fruits and monochromatic illustrations of roots and rocks that can still be seen to this day. Among other landmark works he created during his time in Milan were “The Last Super”, “The Lady with the Ermine”, and “The Virgin of the Rocks”.
Another central male figure in Leonardo’s life came during his second period in Milan around 1509. He was Francesco Melzi, the son of a noble Milanese family, who also entered into Leonardo’s apprenticeship as a teenager. He eventually became his loyal companion through the rest of his life, for total of 13 years together. He was his secretary and was entrusted to archive Leonardo’s documents. He was with Leonardo at the time of his death, in Clos-Luce, France, and was the executor for his estate.