For many, it will be enough that Leonardo will be a chance to see Aidan Turner again. Since the end of Poldark a year and a half ago, the Irish actor has been off our screens – but now we see why. This retelling of the life of the great Renaissance artist is a huge undertaking, running over eight parts and marshalled by The Man In The High Castle showrunner Frank Spotnitz and Sherlock writer Steve Thompson. It covers not only the creation of masterpieces including, of course, the Mona Lisa, but also plenty of other adventures.
Even before its release, there have been controversies around the show. Chief among these is the presence of a possible love interest, Leonardo’s muse Caterina da Cremona, played by Matilda De Angelis of The Undoing, with art historians keen to point out that Leonardo was almost certainly gay and that Caterina did not exist. On surer ground are characters such as Da Vinci’s teacher Andrea del Verrocchio (Giancarlo Giannini) and Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan (James D’Arcy), who commissioned him to paint The Last Supper. Along with the art, though, there’s also mystery and murder, with fictional detective Stefano Giraldi (Freddie Highmore) suspicious that Leonardo has been busy with more than his paintbrush.
The production was a long and complicated affair, inevitably interrupted by the pandemic. Originally the intention was to shoot in Florence and Milan, but filming was relocated to Rome, based at what became one of the largest backlots in the world, growing to more than 215,000 square feet. This being Italy, there was no shortage of period buildings to choose from, and in addition a total of 50 locations were used.
Among these was Villa d’Este in Tivoli, close to Rome. This 16th-century palace, a treasure of the Renaissance and now a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, plays the court of the Duke of Milan. As well as the main floor, the production also made use of the ponds, rotunda and cloisters.
Another grand period building that appears is the Palazzo Farnese, once owned by the family of Pope Paul III. Close to the town of Viterbo, to the north of Rome, it’s famed for its Mannerist style, dating from the end of the Renaissance era. Filming also took place in Viterbo itself, with Turner and cast seen in the Piazza del Commune, the Basilica of Santa Maria della Quercia and in the cloister of the ancient church of Santa Maria Nuova. We’ll bring you more information on the other locations when we have it.
‘Leonardo’ is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video from Friday 16 April 2021
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