Leonardo in Rocafort (Martorell)

In my books El viaje secreto de Leonardo da Vinci, and Los mensajes ocultos de Leonardo da Vinci, I employed numerous pages to substantiate, based on reasoned evidences, that Leonardo would have visited Martorell in 1504, where he would have taken notes for the background of his painting La Gioconda.

Comparison between the Mona Lisa and a landscape of the Serra de l'Ataix, up Martorell.

In another article (Leonardo, La Gioconda and Martorell) I refer to the fact that in his Allegory of the navigation Leonardo would have symbolized, through a pictogram, the name of this town on the banks of the river Llobregat.

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Mare + Torello, alluding to Martorell. In the base of the tree we can find the word "vé" (go).

Around those dates (1504) is dated the following drawing of the Codex Madrid II (folio 4 recto):


Detail of a mountain at the folio 4 recto of the Codex Madrid II.

We see -transparented- the writing on the reverse, in which we read the following sentence: "A catelano rosato". This garment (a "pink catalan cloak") is part of a list of clothing which has as heading "In cassa al munistero" (in the case of the monastery). Which monastery is it? In Los mensajes ocultos de Leonardo da Vinci I proposed the possibility that this was Montserrat (not Santa Maria Novella, as commonly stated). Leonardo would have resided there, or in Martorell, a few months, during his second trip to Barcelona (the first had taken place between 1481 and 1483).

Whatever it is, the Anonimo Gaddiano (1540), one of the oldest sources of the life of Leonardo, speaks clearly of two trips of Leonardo to France, not one (as it is normally said). It would give faith of his second trip to Barcelona and Salses, in 1504, where he would have taken notes for painting La Gioconda. It says literally:

"He was with Cesare Borgia [1500-1503], and later went to France and elsewhere [1504?, also to Spain?] [first journey]. He returned to Milan [1506], but because of the disturbances that ravaged the State while working to fuse the horse in bronze, he returned to Florence [1507; note the confusion with his first stay in Milan]. There he lived six months in house of the sculptor Giovan Francesco Rustichi, via Martelli [1507]. He returned again to Milan [1508], and then to France [1516] [second journey], to serve the King Francis... In his will left to Messer Francesco da Melzi, Milanese gentleman, all the money, clothes, books, writings, drawings, instruments and portraits, i.e., everything to do with the painting, art and industry that there had, and named him executor of his will".

Note the words on the right in folio 4 recto of the Madrid II Codex. It is as if they had been deliberately embroiled (perhaps by Leonardo himself?). But we can still guess some letters (T and P), in addition to two words, that we expose below (next, a sample of Leonardo's calligraphy):

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Detail: on the left we read Rocafor (the original script is inverted); center, we read po_t (pont?); right, calligraphy of Leonardo. High resolution image provided by the National Library of Madrid.

Daniel Ibáñez, expert on Leonardo's time (in particular on the figure of Carlos V of Habsburg, and his relationship with Catalonia), has put me on the track of this word; which, by the way, has not been transcribed by the platform Leonardo digitale, unlike other equally difficult texts.

In the library Leonardo digitale this term has not been transcribed, unlike other equally difficult texts of Leonardo. 

In the National Library I have obtained a high resolution image (corresponding to folio 4r of the Madrid II Codex). With it I have confirmed that this word, with clear signs of deterioration (perhaps because Leonardo wanted to erase it), is none other than "Rocafor" (without "t" end). I do not see another alternative posible. 

On the other hand, the term po_t (pont?), With a solitary p on its left, and an arrow indicating the rocky wall on its right, fits the orography of the place. Professor Alfred Mauri, excavator and good connoisseur of the enclave known as Priorat of Sant Genís de Rocafort (see below), assured me that in ancient times, in the precise place where this indication is found (pont, catalan word meaning "bridge "), there was a wooden bridge, which has now disappeared. When climbing the wall (which must be done if you access from the Serra de l'Ataix, behind it), you can clearly see the holes in the stone that housed the wooden trunks that made up this bridge in the past. 

It is clear that the territory of the mountain of Montserrat does not have any Rocafort. On the contrary, there is a Rocafort on the outskirts of Martorell, very close to the place where Leonardo would have taken notes to draw the background of La Gioconda. I am referring to the monastery of Sant Genis de Rocafort, receiving the name of Rocafort already in very early dates: 

Malgrat que aquest monestir se’l coneixia en origen com a Sant Genís de Castellví, en els primers escrits ja apareix amb el topònim ‘Rocafort’ cosa que fa pensar que va ser construït damunt les restes d’una antiga fortalesa de la qual no es conserva cap vestigi. El monestir va ser fundat l’any 1042 per Bonfill i la seva muller Sicarda, senyors de Castellví, per tal de convertir-lo en el panteó familiar” (Isabel Benet: El monestir de Sant Genís i el castell de Sant Jaume). 

That is to say: initially this place was called Sant Genís de Castellví, but in the first writings appears simply as Rocafort. The monastery was founded the year 1042.

Two images of Sant Genís de Rocafort. As in Leonardo's drawing, this monastery looks like a nest of eagles, because it is surrounded by rocks on all sides.

Rocafort seen from the Serra de l'Ataix. In the foreground, from behind, Alfred Mauri, good connoisseur of the place. To access the priory there had to cross a bridge, which Leonardo mentions (see above).

We can think that this name does not tell us much about the place. It would be not a clear evidence. But if we compare the drawing of Leonardo with the remains preserved from Sant Genís de Rocafort, we can reach the conclusion that this sketch represents the site.

Significant aspects that make think that this drawing represents the monastery of Sant Genís de Rocafort: 

1) It is surrounded by rocks (see above).

(2) A nearly circular wall surrounds the perimeter (a).


A circular wall surrounds the perimeter. Please note that the entrance of the church is located in the North, as in the drawing of Leonardo.

(3) The church roof is supported by Gothic arches (b). As in Sant Genís de Rocafort.

The single upright arch is identical to the one in the drawing of Leonardo. And it is situated in the same position (at the bottom of the Church). 

(4) The door has a large tympanum, with an arch of half point, as in the drawing (c).


The door has a wide tympanum, as in the drawing.

(5) the rock (d) has a very characteristic form:

The rocks of the North of the Ordal have a very peculiar structure... Similar to the Mona Lisa. 

This structure is visible in the two Giocondas of Leonardo: Paris and Madrid. In the same way as in the drawing of folio 4 recto of Codex Madrid II (d). 

This rock may be represented in the letter (d). It is very large, and is covered by a dense vegetation. So I had to photograph it from two different perspectives. 

(6) Notice a detail. In the drawing of Leonardo the rock with this peculiar form (d) is placed to the left, but in Rocafort is on the right side. This is corrected if we reverse the drawing (as seems to indicate the florentine genius, by placing a capital N settled in specular direction, as happens with the rest of the written text). Then the rock appears in the correct position. 

The N determines the correct orientation. We have to reverse the picture horizontally. 

(7) Leonardo would have contemplated this mound from the church of Santa Margarida, located nearby, across the hill of Rocafort. On the other hand, it is oriented in the same way, as you can see in the illustration below.

The drawing depicts Rocafort from the perspective of Santa Margarida. It is oriented the same way (the correct orientation is determined by the N; see above). 

(8) The church building has a rectangular shape, as is shown in the drawing (e).

So, I think that not only the allusion to "Rocafor" made in the drawing, but also certain details that we have pointed out above, suggest that Leonardo drew a site close to the town of Martorell: the monastery of Sant Genís de Rocafort.

In what situation would be the monastery in times of Leonardo? The work titled El Priorat de Sant Genís de Rocafort (Martorell), written by Josep Baucell i Reig, says as follows:

A finals del segle XV el panorama que presentaven els edificis i les coses del Priorat no podia ser més lamentable: les construccions del clos monàstic completament arruïnades, i les de la parròquia mig malmeses, i els objectes monàstics perduts del tot, i els parroquials disminuits en nombre, i en males condicions. Tanmateix, el patrimoni rústeg i de domini continuava íntegre”.

That is to say: At the end of the XV century the monastery was already in ruins.

In the article by Isabel Benet (El monestir de Sant Genís i el castell de Sant Jaume) we are told that after the earthquake that took place in the middle of the 15th century the monastery was uninhabitable. By this reason the monks moved elsewhere:

El terratrèmol de 1448 va esfondrar la volta del temple i va enderrocar la casa dels monjos que des de llavors es van traslladar a l’església de Santa Margarida situada al costat de l’actual cementiri de Martorell i bastida damunt una antiga basílica paleocristiana, en la qual s’hi han fet diverses excavacions”.

It is clear that Leonardo could not leave his delicate clothes in a case of this monastery in ruins (if it was not in the nearby church of Santa Margarida); he probably resided in Montserrat (or in Martorell), and -perhaps- sometimes he would wander by the outskirts of Martorell, with its splendid views.

View of Montserrat from Sant Genís de Rocafort.

There he would have found this picturesque and abandoned place, that would have encouraged him to take note of it. With what aim? We ignore it. Perhaps he pretended to outline its strategic value, in a place so important for the defense of Barcelona as the Congost of the Llobregat and the mountains of the Ordal. Or perhaps he pretended to save in the memory a magical site that served him of scenario to paint the landscape of La Gioconda. That is something that surely we will never know.