Leonardo in Catalonia: A summary of my theory

José Luis Espejo

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Dear reader. This is an illustrated summary of my theory. You can find much more information (in Spanish) in my web page:



According to Mr. Alessandro Vezzosi the blason of the Da Vinci is this one:








And specifically this one:







You can find the blason of the Da Vinci in the “stemma” that is in the center of the list of owners of Clos Lucé, in Amboise. The stemma of Leonardo is round, not straigh, like the french or spanish ones:

It is curious that Leonardo had the same blason that the Lords of Amboise. In fact, the blason of the Amboise is so old (has the same antiquity) as the one of the Counts of Barcelona (first documented the year 1150), what implies the same origin. In fact, in the Cantar del Mío Cid the catalans commanded by Ramon Berenguer are called “francs”. The Counts of Barcelona were linked, by feudal relationship, to the king of  France until the Traité de Corbeil, the year 1258. This explain the similarity of the blason of the lords of Amboise, of the Da Vinci, and of Catalonia. It is possible that this blason descends from the french “oriflame”, the banner of the french kings.

According to my theory, the Da Vinci family came originally from a village called Vinciano, but popularly Vincia, near Perpignan, in North Catalonia (now in France, since the year 1659). Here you have some documentary evidences of the name of this village:







Vinciano and Vincia in some transcriptions of  Jean Bernard Alart (Vinça)

Vinciano was the name used in the notarial documents; Vinsia and Vincia were the popular names. Sometimes it was used as first name, as seen above.

This name is very ancient. We can see it in a document of the year 1210, translated by Jean Bernard Alart. You can read Avincia. The “A” is a tropos called “protesis”, very popular in this area (Aria, instead of Ria, etc.):





So, we have the name Vincia and the blason of the Da Vinci. It was really the blason of Catalonia and of the kingdom of Aragon. Why? Because Vinciano was a city of the king, it had not feudal lord. The lord was the king, and Vinciano was owned by the kingdom. It is for this reason that the blason of Vinciano (modern Vinça) was, until the french domination, the following one:









The number of red bars of this blason was not specified. Could be three, four or five, as you can see in this blason of Girona, with three:






Or in this blason of the italian family Allione, with five red bars:









According to my theory, the catalan Alió (perhaps the italian Allione), as the De Vinciano (the modern Da Vinci?), were feudal lords that flew from the territory of North Catalonia to Italy because of the repression against the Cathars (XIII century). Bernat d'Alió was burned in Perpignan, as heretical cathar, the year 1258.  

The De Vinciano family were feudal landlords, with lands in Puigcerdà, in the Pyrenees, and perhaps other propierties near Berga, in the province of Barcelona. The De Vinciano had strong contacts with hereticals:


The last presence of a De Vinciano in Catalonia is documented in 1270. Then they disapeared.

The first Da Vinci (not Vinci) in Italy is documented in 1254. It was, according to Vezzosi, Cianchi or Uzzielli, Riniero di Salvi da Vinci. 

Near Vinçà (ancient Vinciano) there is a village called Reiner (Rainiero in the old documents). Salvi is a name very popular in that area, as explained in the article above.

It is broadly accepted that the blason of the Da Vinci is the same than the one of Catalonia and Aragon, as seen in the door of the house of the Da Vinci in Anchiano:









Leonardo could have family in Catalonia, because a brother of his great-grandfather, Giovanni Da Vinci, died in Barcelona in 1406, and lived almost 40 years in this city. I can't prove it, but I think that he could have left family (children) in Barcelona, who would be distant cousins of Leonardo.







Leonardo knew very well Spain and Catalonia, as seen in his map of Europe, in the Atlantic Codex:














Next to the map of Spain there is a list of french cities. One of them is Perpignan, in North Catalonia, very near to Vinça (the ancient Vinciano).

So, it would be no strange at all if Leonardo went to Catalonia. I think that he did this at least two times, between 1481-1483, and in the second half of 1504. This year he made a drawing of the castle of Salses (near Perpignan), which was finished the same year 1504 (as seen in the Madrid II Codex). A year later (1505) a Spanish painter, Fernando Yáñez, went to his bottega. Perhaps it was Fernando de Llanos. In any case, a Ferrando Spagnolo was with Leonardo a year later of his second travel -according to my theory- to Barcelona.

It was then when he began La Gioconda, with a landscape very similar to the one of Martorell, near Barcelona.








In this travel (year 1504) he drawed the castle and monastery of Rocafort, in Martorell, destroyed by an earthquake the year 1448. Here there is a clear evidence:







This drawing is documented in the year 1504, as some of the drawings of the Codex Madrid II.

Leonardo erased these letters, as seen in the Codex Madrid II, 4r:








In the other side of the page you can see “un catalano rosato”, a catalan cloak in a list called “In cassa al munistero”.

I think that Leonardo came at least two times to Barcelona as a spy. The first time, perhaps, invited by Giuliano della Rovere, who was then the abbot of Montserrat (but who lived most of the time in Avignon). A month before of the desaparition of Leonardo from Florence, the year 1481, Giuliano della Rovere (future pope Giuliano II) says to the king of Spain (Fernando el Católico) that he is going to be soon in Montserrat  (this letter is dated the 13 August 1481). You can see this transcription, made the year 1789 by a monk of Montserrat (the original has desapeared):








Literally Fernando el Católico writes to the monks of Montserrat that Giuliano della Rovere is coming to Montserrat:

"1481. Carta (compulsada) del Católico a los monges; dice: 'Per la devoció que tenim a la beneita Verge Maria de Montserrat havem procurat que en aqueixa casa havia Abat, que farà residencia personal, e lo Cardenal que de present te la dita Abadia (la Rovere, despues Papa Julio 2) ha estat content de complaure-nos'. Y mientras se perfecciona este negocio, dice que el Cardenal da procura a los magníficos Guillem de Peralta y a su auditor Joan Periz; y manda el Rey que les obedezcan, 'que aixo sera pera lo benefici de aqueix Monestir, e no faran lo contrari, per quant nostra gracia haveu casa'. Dat. Agosto 13".

In another letter, dated the year 1480, Giuliano della Rovere, according to the monk that transcribed the original documents, says that he wants to expel all the benedictine monks from Montserrat, and to transform Montserrat in a monastery of the Jeromes. In these years (beginnings of the 1480) Leonardo paints a Saint Jerome, with clears details similars to Montserrat:

"... Embiando regio diploma dirigido al cardenal de la Robere (despues Julio II), prior comandatario, con motivo de la negociacion muy adelantada del cardenal con los jeronimos para expeler a los claustrales, que atajó el Rey Católico".







Above you can see the Saint Jerome of Leonardo, compared with a sculpture of Pau Serra (1776), who -according to my opinion- was inspired in the painting of Leonardo in Montserrat. The Saint Jerome would have been stolen by the Maréchal Suchet the year 1811, when he took Montserrat, and given as a present to the Cardinal Joseph Fesch, uncle of Napoleon, in that moment in Rome. It would be for this reason -really- that the Saint Jerome is nowadays in the Vatican Museums.

It is posible that Leonardo painted another Saint Jerome inspired in the one made in Montserrat: "In 1991 Janice Shell and Grazioso Sironi contributed a new document to the dossier. They published the post-mortem inventory of Salai, which was drawn up on 21 April 1925, in Milan, for the división of his goods. The document lists pictures whose subjects unhesitaingly conjure up paintings by Leonardo, that is... un 'quadro cum uno Santo Hieronimo grando'..." (Laure Fagnart: "The French History of Leonardo da Vinci Paintings", in Leonardo da Vinci and France, exposition in Clos Lucé, Amboise, 2009). 






There are some details that show that the landscapes painted by Leonardo in the Saint Jerome are characteristics of Montserrat, as seen above.

He went twice to Catalonia in secret because he came as a spy. You have to considere the historical circumstances: the wars in Italy. In 1480 there was trouble between Florence and Naples, and Fernando el Católico of Spain was cousin of Ferrante de Napoli. His father (Joan II of Aragon) was brother of Alfons el Magnànim d'Aragó, king of Aragon and of Naples (who was the father of Ferrante de Napoli).

You have to remember also that the abbot of Montserrat, in that moment, was Giuliano della Rovere. I think that this was the context and the reason that explains the stay of Leonardo in Spain in disguise. He never wrote in his notebooks about these travels; and if he did, he erased these writtings (as seen above, in the Codex Madrid II). 

The second travel, in the second part of 1504, coincided with a dispute between the cardinal Francesco Soderini (brother of  Piero Soderini, gonfaloniero of Firenze) and the king Fernando el Católico about the legitimacy of the Abbey of Montserrat. 

Francesco Soderini, with the support of Giuliano della Rovere, maintained that he was the real abbot, instead of the Abbot Cisneros, in charge then of the monastery of Montserrat. 

Furthermore, the year 1504, Leonardo learnt the last techniques of fortification in Spain. The castle of Salses (near Perpignan) was the best -and more modern- in Europe. The year 1504 Leonardo was working for Jacopo d'Appiano in the fortification of Piombino.










Up, drawing by the spanish Gonzalo de Ayora (1503). Down, drawing by Leonardo (1504).









Up, drawings of Leonardo in the Codex Madrid II (1504). Down, castle of Salses (Perpignan), 1504.

This is essentially my theory. You will find much more information in my books EL VIAJE SECRETO DE LEONARDO DA VINCI, LOS MENSAJES OCULTOS DE LEONARDO DA VINCI, and in the section LEONARDO DA VINCI of my web page:


I think that this new line of research can explain some of the enigmas on the iconography and on the life of Leonardo, as points out a french reader that sent these words to me:

Tout d'abord cela fait longtemps que je connais tes thèses, j'avais lu tes deux premiers livres mais il faut que je lise le dernier. Je ne comprends pas pourquoi ta contribution n'est pas davantage reprise dans les medias, c'est pour moi un mystère. Ca mettra le temps qu'il faut mais pour moi il est indiscutable que la voie que tu as ouverte concernant le rapport entre Leonardo et la Catalogne finira par s'imposer comme une vérité définitive, et surtout une vérité sans laquelle on ne pourrait rien comprendre en profondeur dans l'oeuvre de l'artiste, avec bien entendu des implications fondamentales dans l'histoire de l'art et des idées. Ce qui n'est pas peu.