Leonardo da Vinci, handbag designer

Amidst thousands of drawings of mechanical inventions, artillery, anatomy, the natural world, etc. made by Leonardo da Vinci and collected in the Codex Atlanticus are some fragments of a design that nobody paid much attention to for 500 years. In 1978, Da Vinci scholar Carlo Pedretti paid attention and identified the drawing as a handbag designed by Leonardo da Vinci around 1497.

quot;Pretiosa" by Gherardini above, design by Leonardo da Vinci belowAgnese Sabato and Alessandro Vezzosi of the Museo Ideale Leonardo Da Vinci in Vinci recently reassembled the design from the fragments. Vezzosi thinks Leonardo made several drawings of the same bag but they’ve been lost.

As a tribute to the city of Florence, a city that has long been famous for its exquisite leather work, fashion house Gherardini has brought Leonardo’s handbag to life. Designer Carla Braccialini designed the “Pretiosa” (meaning “precious” and yes, I am saying it like Gollum) bag based on Leonardo’s drawing, and artisans made it by hand using luxury materials like embroidered calf leather and an embossed brass handle.

Here is an all too short video of a craftsman making the “Pretiosa”:


Functional and beautiful, creative and provocative, the bag would have certainly stood out among Renaissance fashion.

“While the shape recalls the lectern in “The Annunciation,” painted by Leonardo in the workshop of Verrocchio, its patterns feature rotating spirals and floral motifs, scrolls and foliage in metamorphosis,” Vezzosi said.

Boasting a unique closing system, the bag was designed at the end of Leonardo’s first Milanese period, around 1497. At that time, the artist was painting the tapestries in the Last Supper and knots designs in the Sala delle Asse in the Castello Sforzesco.

“Pretiosa” was on display for just three days (January 11-13) at the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno, the first art school in Europe which was founded by Cosimo I de’ Medici and Giorgio Vasari in 1563. Gherardini has made only 99 Preciouses. They will theoretically be sold in Gherardini boutiques starting in March, but I highly doubt anybody walking in off the street will be able to get their mitts on one.

This wasn’t Leonardo’s only foray into fashion design. Several of his forays into clothing and accessory design have survived, as have his writings on the subject. He had strong opinions on the fashions of his era, condemning excessive ornamentation, overly tight clothes and shoes.

An appreciation for fashion is not Gherardini’s sole connection to the Renaissance genius. Lisa Gherardini, born to a decayed aristocratic Florentine family in 1479, married successful silk merchant Francesco Del Giocondo when she was 15. In 1503, Francesco commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to paint a portrait of her. It took him so long to paint it that he officially gave up the commission in 1506, although he kept working on it for the rest of his life.

After his death in 1519, the painting was bought by King Francis I of France. Now Leonardo’s portrait of Lisa Gherardini, aka la Gioconda, aka Madonna Lisa, aka Monna Lisa, aka the Mona Lisa, smiles serenely at dense crowds of Louvre visitors. One hundred and twenty-six years ago, her relatives founded the Gherardini fashion house.