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From Leonardo to Palladio. Inspiration travels between the two Italians, passing through France

«It is nothing more than a spiral staircase, but you never get tired of going up and down», wrote Goethe in his Journey to Italy.

There is one project, in Palladio's Four Books, only one "modern" project, not Italian.

It is the double elliptical staircase of the Château de Chambord, in France.

As everyone knows, Leonardo Da Vinci decided to end his career, and his life, at the court of the cultured and refined Francesco I, with the high-sounding title of premier peintre, architecte, et mecanicien du roi, as well as a pension of 5,000 scudi .

He is now 65 years old, but has the usual, unquenchable intellectual vitality.

And precisely in those last two years of life, among Francis' great projects was the Château de Chambord, the largest of the Loire castles, a place that would celebrate its glory by becoming one of the royal residences.

Leonardo certainly collaborated in the design, and we have some of his sketches in particular representing designs for double helix staircases.

Unfortunately the original drawings of the castle have been lost, so we cannot say for sure; however, it is very probable that the very particular solution of Chambord's helical staircase has to do with the studies of the Italian genius and his unique studio capable of linking all the fields of construction: hydraulic turbines, but also the first studies on those that helicopters will then become in its future, they are present here – in this ingenious solution in Chambord.

And so we arrive at Marcantonio Barbaro, diplomat of the Serenissima in France before becoming Bailo in Constantinople - already Istanbul for the Turks since they had conquered it about twenty years earlier. Only for them though: for us Westerners it will continue to remain Constantinople for a long time.

Marcantonio is the brother of Daniele, who translates and comments on Vitruvius' De Architectura with illustrations by Palladio, who designs the extraordinary villa in Maser for them, Palladio who has their main Venetian sponsors in the Barbaros.

Palladio therefore almost certainly receives from Marcantonio the drawings of the double elliptical staircase of the castle of Chambord, which appears transformed in the Quattro Libri, as we have said the only non-Italian modern project of the treatise.

Here is what ours writes: “The Magnanimous King Francis had already made another beautiful style of snail-shaped stairs in Sciambur, a place of France, in a palace he had built in a wood, and it is in this way. There are four stairs, which have four entrances, that is, each has its own, and they ascend one above the other, so that they are in the middle of the building; they can serve four apartments, without those who live in one going up the stairs of the other: and to be empty in the middle; everyone sees each other go up and down, without giving each other the slightest hindrance."

Palladio, who has never been to Chambord (or as he writes, Sciambur) designs four intersecting spiral staircases, built around an open centre, as in his Convento della Carità, now the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice.

Here in Venice the Paduan architect's stairs are not visible from the four rooms, as in Chambord, but lead to four separate rooms with four columns.

A solution different from that of Leonardo, but inspired by him.

Two Renaissance geniuses thus come into contact, fifty years apart and passing through a foreign kingdom. But leaving to the whole world, as a legacy, two absolute masterpieces, obviously Italian.

This is why by going up or down these two staircases, we pass from Leonardo to Palladio, but also from Italy to France to Italy.

On Andrea Palladio and his amazing adventures, there are many possible tours that we offer, with different formulas. You can find them all at this link

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