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Leonardo - Master of Ceremonies

Charles Nicholl, Leonardo's biographer, reveals a lesser known aspect of his work in Milan: the splendid pageants, masques and parades which Leonardo designed and directed.

Following on from the National Gallery's major exhibition "Leonardo: Painter at the Court of Milan" which included some of the best known paintings by the great "Renaissance Man", we reveal a lesser known, but equally astonishing aspect of his work in Milan: his splendid pageants, masques and parades which he designed and directed as Master of Ceremonies. Charles Nicholl, Leonardo's biographer, is fascinated by these transient masterpieces, which are equally important to the development of Leonardo's work and which the artist carefully describes in his own writing. There are also vivid eye witness accounts. In this programme he re-imagines the most brilliant, Il Paradiso, in its original setting at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan.

These ephemeral, insubstantial creations may be dwarfed by the perennial celebrity of his paintings, but they contain in miniature that mix of art and science, of visual flair and mechanical ingenuity, which is typical of him. Comments in his notebooks sometimes suggest they were a distraction from more serious work, but distraction is a key mental process in Leonardo, a finding of unexpected new avenues to explore, and these trivial-seeming divertimenti have their own fascination; they are a counterpart to the profoundly dramatic quality of works such as the Last Supper.

Produced by Kate Bland
This is a Just Radio Ltd production for Radio 3.

45 minutes

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