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A replica of the mechanical lion attributed to Leonardo da Vinci is displayed int Amboise, France.

Italy’s President Attends da Vinci Celebration

Italian President Sergio Mattarella and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron kicked off commemorations to mark 500 years since Leonardo da Vinci died in France, paying their respects to the Renaissance genius in a private visit to his grave.

The sleepy town of Amboise on the Loire River where Leonardo died in 1519 at the age of 67, was in virtual lockdown because of fears of protests by France’s grassroots “yellow vest” movement. Traffic in the town of 13,000 was banned within a three mile radius, with all of its usually busy restaurants and shops closed. In fact, on the day before the ceremony, dozens of cars were towed away, their owners unaware of the strict security measures.

After the visit to Leonardo’s grave, Macron and Mattarella had lunch at the nearby Clos Luce, the sumptuous manor house where the artist lived and died under the patronage of King Francis I. Later they visited the sprawling chateau of Chambord, whose central double-helix staircase was designed by da Vinci shortly before his death.

The joint celebrations came after months of mounting diplomatic tensions between Rome and Paris over recent policy differences between the two governments. In the worst diplomatic crisis between the two countries since World War II, Paris briefly recalled its Ambassador in Rome. President Mattarella played an essential role in lowering tensions, according to French officials.

King Louis XII began bringing architects and artisans from Florence, Milan and Rome to France in the early 16th century and his successor, Francis I, is credited with bringing the Renaissance and da Vinci to France. Leonardo was 64 when he accepted the young King’s invitation to Amboise. He received a sizable stipend as the “First painter, engineer and architect of the King.”

Much to the anguish of all of Italy, Leonardo brought with him three of his favorite paintings: the Mona Lisa, the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist – all of which today hang in the Louvre in Paris.