Ve­ni, Vi­di, Vinci

AD (Italy) - - Englishtexts. - words p—ho­tos GIO­VAN­NI MON­TA­NA­RO OLIM­PIA CA­STEL­LI­NI BAL­DIS­SE­RA

LEO­NAR­DO AND POR­TA­LUP­PI. ART, WAR, LO­VE AND THE EVER-CHAN­GING LAND­SCA­PE OF HISTORY. AN IN­CRE­DI­BLE TA­LE OF BEAU­TY THAT BE­GAN FI­VE HUN­DRED YEARS AGO, IN THE HEART OF MI­LAN.

«The wi­ne was drea­d­ful. Pu­re vi­ne­gar », Pie­ro Ca­stel­li­ni re­calls with a smi­le. The family drank it at Christmas. He sho­ws me the steps that led to the dark cel­lar and now access be­drooms, for when his chil­dren come to vi­sit. Things chan­ge, homes chan­ge. The vineyard, the wi­ne, no lon­ger exi­st. But Ca­sa de­gli Atel­la­ni is still the­re, with its history. La­te 1400s. Lu­do­vi­co Sfor­za, kno­wn as «il Mo­ro», sur­rounds him­self with cour­tiers. Fre­ne­tic, de­ci­si­ve years. It is al­so a time of par­ties, the best of whi­ch we­re gi­ven pre­ci­se­ly by the Atel­la­ni family, on whom Lu­do­vi­co, in 1490, be­sto­wed a house that once be­lon­ged to the Du­kes of Pia­cen­za. Leo­nar­do da Vinci rea­ched Mi­lan in 1482, con­scious cour­tier of a po­wer­ful, sly, fe­ro­cious master. Leo­nar­do does all he can to cur­ry fa­vor; he de­si­gns ir­ri­ga­tion sy­stems, pain­ts Lu­do­vi­co’s lo­ver Ce­ci­lia Gal­le­ra­ni, the Lady with an Er­mi­ne, de­ve­lops mi­li­ta­ry ma­chi­ne­ry, and the world’s lar­ge­st eque­strian mo­nu­ment, never built.

But Leo­nar­do has a hard time of it. The Sfor­za pa­tro­na­ge doe­sn’t cover the sup­port of three as­si­stan­ts, two ser­van­ts, maybe the mo­ther as well. On the 26th of April 1499 Lu­do­vi­co gran­ts Leo­nar­do ow­ner­ship of the vi­neyards ex­ten­ding from Por­ta Ver­cel­lia­na to the bac­kyard of Ca­sa de­gli Atel­la­ni, but he on­ly has the chan­ce to see one har­ve­st. On 6th of Oc­to­ber 1499 the city is ta­ken by Louis XII. Leo­nar­do f lees and starts to wan­der. The gra­pes keep gro­wing, for cen­tu­ries. The vineyard gra­dual­ly sh­rinks. Hou­ses are built. Ca­sa de­gli Atel­la­ni is a ruin, fil­led with chic­kens. It comes 1922. Et­to­re Con­ti is the ow­ner of an elec­tri­cal uti­li­ty, sup­ply­ing ener­gy all over Lom­bar­dy. By his si­de is Pie­ro Por­ta­lup­pi, an equal­ly up- and- co­ming ar­chi­tect, who mar­ried Et­to­re’s nie­ce. When Con­ti wan­ts a house sui­ta­ble for a man of his ac­qui­red rank, he op­ts for 65 Cor­so Ma­gen­ta. He buys two hou­ses in the big com­plex; one for him­self, one for Por­ta­lup­pi. He as­si­gns the re­no­va­tion to the lat­ter, and it be­co­mes a revolution. Por­ta­lup­pi re­ma­kes the fa­ca­de, mo­ves four ter­ra­cot­ta win­do­ws inside, al­ters the vo­lu­mes, in­ven­ts shiny new co­lumns that look as if they have al­ways been the­re. Then he mo­ves in. The house chan­ges: new steel parts, im­po­sing gray doors, cei­ling vaul­ts, new co­lors, green mar­ble, roun­ded ca­bi­ne­ts with trian­gu­lar dra­wers. But it al­so keeps its light­ness. Pie­ro Ca­stel­li­ni is the son of Por­ta­lup­pi’s daughter. He li­ves he­re, in a por­tion of his gran­d­fa­ther’s home. Hou­ses had to be re­built over the debris of World War I. On­ly a gar­den re­mai­ned. He was bit of a brat, not mu­ch of a boo­k­worm. So he had to spend sum­mers he­re, at his gran­d­fa­ther’s pla­ce, cram­ming for ma­ke-up exams. In the mean­ti­me ano­ther war ca­me. Bombs struck the house and the near­by ba­si­li­ca. Por­ta­lup­pi’s son, Ore­ste, was kil­led; he was in the Na­vy, then he was go­ne. Things come to an end: Por­ta­lup­pi clo­ses up all his co­lor­ful neck­ties in a clo­set. And his ar­chi­tec­tu­re be­co­mes mo­re au­ste­re. But a por­tion of his fol­ly sur­vi­ves in Ca­sa de­gli Atel­la­ni. He buys a collection of 1600 Roman works in mar­ble, from all over the Me­di­ter­ra­nean. He con­ti­nues to ma­ke sun­dials, and dra­ws a lar­ge, com­pli­ca­ted one on the cei­ling in the par­lor. Ca­stel­li­ni, in the mean­ti­me, de­ci­des to be­co­me an ar­chi­tect, stu­dy­ing at the school whe­re his gran­d­fa­ther is the dean. When Por­ta­lup­pi dies Ca­stel­li­ni ta­kes a de­gree. In the end, things do con­ti­nue. I rea­li­ze this on the way up­stairs; on the stair­well the­re is a gra­ting with the in­tert­wi­ned dou­ble P (Por­ta­lup­pi’s sym­bol), but al­so a fre­sco by Va­len­ti­no Va­go, com­mis­sio­ned by Ca­stel­li­ni. The vineyard is go­ne, but the­re is still a gar­den. «We dug », Ca­stel­li­ni tells me. «The vineyard walls are 60 cm be­low ground. The roo­ts are lo­wer, but they found them. We are wor­king on it, to try to plant them in time for the Ex­po». I’m about to ta­ke my lea­ve when Ca­stel­li­ni in­sists on gi­ving me two neck­ties. I ac­cept them be­cau­se that is what he has taught me. Now they are mine, but they will al­ways be a lit­tle bit his. That’s how sto­ries and eve­ry­thing goes; you have to con­ser­ve them, but then you al­so have to gi­ve them to so­me­bo­dy el­se

«THE HOUSE CHAN­GES: NEW STEEL PARTS, IM­PO­SING GRAY DOORS, CEI­LING VAUL­TS, NEW CO­LORS, GREEN MAR­BLE, ROUN­DED CA­BI­NE­TS».

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