c. 1490 | Milan

Kitchen Appliances

Bedlam in Leonardo’s kitchen.

Master Leonardo da Vinci’s kitchen is a bedlam. Lord Ludovico Sforza has told me that the effort of the last months had been to economize upon human labor, but now, instead of the twenty cooks the kitchens did once employ, there are closer to two hundred persons milling in the area, and none that I could see cooking but all attending to the great devices that crowded up the floors and walls—and none of which seemed behaving in any manner useful or for which it was created.

At one end of the premise, a great waterwheel, driven by a raging waterfall over it, spewed and spattered forth its waters over all who passed beneath and made the floor a lake. Giant bellows, each twelve feet long, were suspended from the ceilings, hissing and roaring with intent to clear the fire smoke, but all they did accomplish was to fan the flames to the detriment of all who needed to negotiate by the fires—so fierce the wandering flames that a constant stream of men with buckets was employed in trying to quell them, even though other waters spouted forth on all from every corner of the ceilings.

And throughout this stricken area wandered horses and oxen, the function of which seemed to be no more than to go around and round, the others dragging Master Leonardo’s floor-cleaning devices—performing their tasks valiantly, but also followed by another great army of men to clean the horses’ messes. Elsewhere I saw the great cow grinder broken down with half a cow still stuck out of it, and men with levers essaying to move it out.

The screams we had been hearing we now realized were from the poor wretches being burned or drowned or smothered, and the explosions from the gunpowders Master Leonardo did insist to use to light his smouldering fires. As I did describe before, Master Leonardo’s kitchen was a bedlam, which I do not think did please Lord Ludovico.

About This Text

Sabba da Castiglione, from a monthly report. Leonardo at the age of thirty in 1482 came into the service of Ludovico Sforza by a letter of introduction from Lorenzo de’ Medici, who said that he would make a fine lute player. Gaining the title “painter and engineer of the duke,” he also took charge of the kitchen. This account describes a night on which the duke and his guests had waited an hour for dinner; upon investigation, they witnessed this spectacle.