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IN PICTURES: France and Italy mark 500 years since Da Vinci’s death

President Emmanuel Macron and Italian counterpart Sergio Mattarella on Thursday kicked off commemorations to mark 500 years since Leonardo da Vinci died in France, paying their respects to the Renaissance genius in a private visit to his grave.

IN PICTURES: France and Italy mark 500 years since Da Vinci's death
The French and Italian presidents pay their respects. All photos: AFP

The sleepy town of Amboise on the Loire River — where Leonardo died in 1519 at the age of 67 — was in virtual lockdown because of fears of protests by France's grassroots “yellow vest” movement.

Traffic in the town of just 13,000 was banned within a five-kilometre radius and the usually teeming restaurants and shops shuttered. 

READ ALSO Mystery of Salvator Mundi – the world's most costly painting


Italian president Sergio Mattarella with his daughter Laura and French president Emmanuel Macron with his wife Brigitte

On Wednesday, dozens of cars were towed away, with some foreign owners apparently unaware of the draconian security measures.

The presidential helicopter had arrived on a river island in the heart of the town, touching down on a pad usually used to launch hot-air balloons over the chateau-studded valley.

After the visit to Leonardo's grave, Macron and Mattarella headed for lunch at the nearby Clos Luce, the sumptuous manor house where Leonardo lived and died under the patronage of King Francis I.

Later they planned to visit the sprawling chateau of Chambord – whose central double-helix staircase is attributed to Leonardo though the first stone was not laid until four months after his death.


The two presidents lay flowers at Leonardo Da Vinci's tomb

Among glitterati attending the events will be Italian star architect Renzo Piano and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet.

The joint celebrations come after months of mounting diplomatic tensions between Paris and Rome over the hardline policies of Italy's populist 
government and its support for France's anti-government “yellow vest” protesters. 

In the worst diplomatic crisis between the two countries since World War II, Paris briefly recalled its ambassador from Rome.

Mattarella, staunchly pro-EU like Macron, played an “essential role” in lowering tensions, Macron's office said. 


Laura and Brigitte pay their respects

Francis I, known as the “Sun King of the 16th century”, is widely credited with bringing the Renaissance to France, even if his predecessor Louis XII had begun the process by bringing in architects and artisans from Florence, Milan and Rome.

Leonardo was 64 when he accepted the young Francis I's invitation to Amboise, at a time when rivals Michelangelo and Raphael were rising stars.

With Leonardo's commissions drying up, it came as a great relief and no small vindication for the Tuscan artist, who received a handsome stipend as the “first painter, engineer and architect of the king”.

At the time, Francis I was barely 23, and his ambitious mother Louise of Savoy “knew that Leonardo would be the man who would allow her son to 
flourish”, Catherine Simon Marion, managing director of the Clos Luce, told AFP. 


Macron greets the Count of Paris and his daughter Princess Antoinette

Leonardo brought with him three of his favourite paintings: the Mona Lisa, the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, and Saint John the Baptist — all of 
which today hang in the Louvre museum in Paris.

Macron is the first French president to visit the town since Charles de Gaulle came in 1959.  


A replica of the mechanical lion attributed to Da Vinci is displayed at Amboise

Emmanuel Honnet, who runs the Cafe des Arts snack bar by the chateau, said the precautions were “understandable… given the terrible social climate and the real terrorist risk”.

But the 51-year-old vented “frustration” that the townspeople were largely sidelined. “It should be the memory of a lifetime,” he said.

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CULTURE

Why Friday the 13th isn’t an unlucky date in Italy

Unlucky for some, but not for Italians. Here's why today's date isn't a cause for concern in Italy - but Friday the 17th is.

Why Friday the 13th isn't an unlucky date in Italy

When Friday the 13th rolls around, many of us from English-speaking countries might reconsider any risky plans. And it’s not exactly a popular date for weddings in much of the western world.

But if you’re in Italy, you don’t need to worry about it.

There’s no shortage of strongly-held superstitions in Italian culture, particularly in the south. But the idea of Friday the 13th being an inauspicious date is not among them.

Though the ‘unlucky 13’ concept is not unknown in Italy – likely thanks to the influence of American film and TV – here the number is in fact usually seen as good luck, if anything.

The number 17, however, is viewed with suspicion and Friday the 17th instead is seen as the unlucky date to beware of.

Just as some Western airlines avoid including the 13th row on planes, you might find number 17 omitted on Italian planes, street numbering, hotel floors, and so on – so even if you’re not the superstitious type, it’s handy to be aware of.

The reason for this is thought to be because in Roman numerals the number 17 (XVII) is an anagram of the Latin word VIXI, meaning ‘I have lived’: the use of the past tense apparently suggests death, and therefore bad luck. It’s less clear what’s so inauspicious about Friday.

So don’t be surprised if, next time Friday 17th rolls around, you notice some Italian shops and offices closed per scaramanzia’.

But why then does 13 often have a positive connotation in Italy instead?

You may not be too surprised to learn that it’s because of football.

Ever heard of Totocalcio? It’s a football pools betting system in which players long tried to predict the results of 13 different matches.

There were triumphant calls of ho fatto tredici! – ‘I’ve done thirteen’ – among those who got them all right. The popular expression soon became used in other contexts to mean ‘I hit the jackpot’ or ‘that was a stroke of luck!’

From 2004, the number of games included in Totocalcio rose to 14, but you may still hear winners shout ‘ho fatto tredici’ regardless.

Other common Italian superstitions include touching iron (not wood) for good luck, not toasting with water, and never pouring wine with your left hand.

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