Just over 500 years ago, in the Clos Lucé in Amboise, France, Leonardo da Vinci passed away at 67 years of age. He had spent the last months of his life dependent on the mercy of the French king, struggling with physical handicaps brought on by a cerebral stroke. Leonardo busied himself with organizing his notes, rarely making attempts at creating new sketches. Surely this was not how he imagined growing old. Not to mention our idea of how the Tuscan genius should have retired, considering the esteem and respect his name evokes to this day. Indeed, he was considered a genius already back in the day; people admired his paintings and blueprints, and he became an inspiration to generations of artists and inventors. Still, it was far from the idolatrous worship Leonardo receives today.
The growing obsession
Take Mona Lisa. Back then, it was considered just one of many paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, and not the most awe-inspiring work of all time. The Gioconda only gained its fame and lustre after it was stolen from the Louvre in August 1911. Strange circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the painting, the investigation, suspected leads – all of these things fuelled public interest in the painting. “In the ensuing months, composers wrote tunes about the Mona Lisa and its subject’s beauty; editorial cartoonists mocked police efforts to find her; and cabaret singers appeared as topless versions of her,” writes publicist Simon Houpt in his book Museum of