09.09.2015. Le Sirenuse
There’s nothing new about passports. The one you see here was issued in 1497 – five years after Columbus reached the New World – by Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. otherwise known as Ludovico il Moro. It’s one of three safe-conduct passes issued to the Guastavillani family of Bologna that hangs on the staircase leading down from the lobby of Le Sirenuse to the Champagne Bar. It has been in the Sersale family for generations.
These were turbulent years in northern Italy. Attempting a shrewd strategic game, but overplaying his hand, Ludovico had allied himself with Charles VIII, the King of France, inviting him to pass through Milanese territory with his troops on their way to besiege Naples. But the French soon turned their attentions to Milan itself, and Ludovico was forced to enlist the help of another powerful European ally, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, to deal with Charles’ threat to his dukedom. This ushered in over half a century of conflict in Italy, with foreign armies and their mercenaries becoming embroiled in an increasingly complex and turbulent power struggle between Italy’s various city states, fiefdoms and dukedoms, with the Papal states adding another, unpredictable twist to the picture.
Just three years after putting his seal to Matteo Guastavillani’s passport, Ludovico was captured by the French and locked up in the dungeon of the Chateau de Loches, near Tours, where he would end his life in 1508. But he left us a few things to be grateful for. As you descend the stairs and glance the passports that bear Ludovico’s seal, remember that this was the same man who brought Leonardo da Vinci to his court, commissioning him to carry out, among other works, the magnificent Last Supper in the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie.
Photo © Roberto Salomone