The Fictional Tale of Leonardo da Vinci’s Role in a Murder Scandal Is the Plot of a New Amazon Prime Series
The show comes out today in the UK and Ireland, but the US release date is still pending.
A TV series about the life and career of Leonardo da Vinci will be the latest period piece to hit Amazon Prime, the streaming service that disappointingly shows Bosch, which is somehow not about the Dutch Old Master Hieronymus.
Fortunately, there will be no such confusion surrounding Leonardo—although the plot does revolve around the artist becoming a lead suspect in a murder case in Milan, where he famously painted The Last Supper. Beyond this fictitious framing device, each episode will also feature the creation of one of his masterpieces.
Irish actor Aiden Turner, who played the title character in the BBC series Poldark and the dwarf Kili in The Hobbit film trilogy, takes on the role of the Renaissance great, whose personal life remains something of a mystery.
“[Leonardo] is one of our greatest artists, but I couldn’t find any previous dramas that revealed what motivated him,” Turner told What to Watch. “We’re left with his great works and his inventions as an engineer, philosopher, botanist, and anatomist, but we don’t know about the man.”
The actor has played a famous artist before—Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the short-lived 2009 BBC series Desperate Romantics. This time around, Turner prepped for the role by visiting the blockbuster Leonardo exhibition at the Louvre in Paris, and by learning to paint with his left hand.
“It can be intimidating, these are big boots to fill,” Turner said. “You’ve got to play this huge, almost mythical figure, and you panic. But you’re not playing the genius, you’re playing the person and I had to keep reminding myself.”
Turner stars alongside Freddie Highmore of The Good Doctor as the police officer investigating the murder; Oscar-nominated actor Giancarlo Giannini as the artist Verrocchio; and Italian actress Matilda De Angelis as Leonardo’s muse, Caterina da Cremona.
The series may be the first on-screen depiction of Leonardo to acknowledge the artist’s sexual attraction to and relationships with men. But ahead of the premiere, there are questions about the historical accuracy of the prominent role played by Caterina.
“Some of [Leonardo’s] relationships were with men; those were significant relationships,” show co-creator Steve Thompson told Variety when the series was first announced in 2018. “But perhaps the most significant relationship in his life was with a friend who was a woman, with whom he was very close, and we unpack that.”
The historical evidence for “Caterina” actually appears to be quite thin. If she ever existed, she was lost to history until 1982, with the publication of the writings of Giuseppe Bossi, an Italian artist and art historian who lived from 1777 to 1815. According to history website Erenow, Bossi claimed that he had evidence that Leonardo had a relationship with a courtesan name “La Cremona,” possibly to help him better paint women.
Little has been published in the way of scholarship about this revelation, but it was cited in a 2004 Leonardo biography by Charles Nicholl.
An early review from Digital Spy calls Turner’s performance “engrossing enough that all that extra fictional stuff really wasn’t needed.” And despite the narrative need for a female lead, it appears the show’s interpersonal relationships will not overshadow Leonardo’s manifold accomplishments.
“Viewers will learn how Leonardo grew into an unparalleled genius whose work overturned the established order,” reads the series description. “His restless curiosity flitted between arts, science and technology, driven by a profound quest for knowledge and determined to unfold the mysteries of the world around him. The series attempts to unlock the enigma of this extraordinary man, through an untold story of mystery and passion.”
Filming on the project began in December 2019 and wrapped in August after a production shutdown due to the pandemic. Rather than working on location, health concerns meant the shoot was constricted to a massive 65,000-square-foot sound set recreating Renaissance Italy. The eight-episode series will premiere in the UK and Ireland on April 16, and began airing last week on Italian network Rai1. There is no US release date.
Sony Pictures is simultaneously releasing a companion Leonardo podcast hosted by Angellica Bell that will offer a deep dive into the series, with interviews with the cast and crew, as well as art historians and curators, reports Radio Times. Except details about the challenges of filming during a global health crisis, as well as discussions about both Leonardo’s work and his sexuality.
“It’s both a challenge and an honor to dramatize the life of one of the most fascinating people who ever lived,” co-creator Frank Spotnitz said in a statement. “We’ve uncovered sometimes little-noticed clues about Leonardo’s life and pieced them together in a puzzle that attempts to reveal the humanity behind the genius.”
See more production stills from the series below.
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