The historic and scientific exhibition "I Navigli di Leonardo" was set up in the first cloister in 2006. Through drawings, paintings and photographs, it illustrates Leonardo’s complex, fascinating relationship with waterways.
The exhibition was created by the Museum, working together with the Associazione Amici dei Navigli with contributions from the Società Navigli Lombardi. It was part of a series of projects surrounding the exhibition "Il Codice di Leonardo da Vinci nel Castello Sforzesco", which was promoted by the Municipality of Milan.
Leonardo da Vinci spent nearly 25 years of his life in Milan. First he was part of the court of the Sforza family (1482-1499), and from 1506 he was in the service of the French rulers.
When he first arrived in Milan in 1482, Leonardo was particularly struck by the ingenious system of the Navigli canals. The system was built in Medieval times, and Leonardo surveyed and annotated his drawings with the courses of the rivers and the works of the hydraulic engineers in Lombardy. He also noted down his ideas for improving the gates of the locks.
He drew an evocative illustration of Milan and was the first to portray the newly finished Martesana canal. He studied water and the laws that govern its behaviour. He dreamed of founding an ideal city for Ludovico il Moro, in which water would play a key role. Leonardo was the first to survey the lakes of the Brianza district, and he devised a new canal that would make the Adda river navigable at the height of the Paderno gorge. He designed various kinds of moving bridges, and a pleasure garden with waterworks for the governor of Milan, Charles D'Amboise.
To find out more about the themes covered in this exhibition, see the special article "Leonardo, Milan and water" in the Leonardo Online section.