Meet Count Francesco Melzi,
Leonardo’s most important apprentice, secretary, archivist, confidante, guardian bulldog, and the executor of his estate after a friendship of only thirteen years.
Francesco, ‘Cecco,’ made his way to Leonardo’s studio in 1506 at the age of fourteen as an apprentice. He was invaluable, and likely the reason Leonardo was later able to retire in more than concept. Cecco began assisting Leonardo to organize his notes into treatises and document his portfolios in the last years of his life.
The conservation of Leonardo’s collective works was Cecco’s legacy to his master. Without his efforts, Leonardo may have become as invisible as Botticelli until he was ‘discovered’ by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the Aesthetic Movement of the romantic poets, and the ‘Mona Lisa’ may have remained a portrait of a housewife hanging on a hook in someone’s spare room. It can happen. One of Leonardo’s lost works (the ‘Salvator Mundi’) took this ignoble journey and was found in 2005. Others remain in hiding. How do I know? I am a writer of historical fantasy and a believer in serendipity over vast periods of time.
The historical facts show the ‘Mona Lisa’ had her moments in the shade. There was a time when she was so shuffled out of fashion, relegated to a government office, completely out of favor. For years she graced Napoleon’s bathroom. She was often displaced from the whims of a wife or personal taste. She was not always a valued asset.
The crime of kidnapping shot her to fame and granted Leonardo a spotlight denied him for centuries. He and Lisa emerged from the shadows, and now it’s Cecco’s turn.
Cecco accompanied Leonardo to the home, Clos Luce, that King Francis I provided for him in Amboise. It was a sister residence near his own palace, the Château d’Amboise in the Loire Valley. The two residences were connected by an underground tunnel.
It’s enticing to imagine this is the first journey the ‘Mona Lisa’ took without her creator and protector when she was delivered to the king shortly after May 2, 1519, the day of Leonardo’s death. Cecco would have wrapped her in lambs wool and oiled skins and accompanied her as one of his last promises to his master. If only tunnels and walls and bedposts could talk.
One has to read fiction to see what the tunnel saw and hear the last conversation of master to devotee. Happily for me, I can transform into wallpaper, speak ‘tunnelese’ and translate the forgotten language of bedposts.
‘Second Lisa’ is my first novel to celebrate the ‘Mona Lisa’ and Leonardo, and in my latest ‘Cherry White,’ the story of Leonardo, Cecco, and the ‘Mona Lisa’ take a new turn around the dance floor, when a sentient android is designed to harvest the lost works of the Italian Renaissance’s fifteenth-century.