French President Emmanuel Macron and his 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 show of unity after months of diplomatic tensions.  

“The bond between our countries and our citizens is indestructible,” Macron said after the two men lunched at the Clos Luce, the sumptuous manor house where Leonardo spent the last three years of his life.

The two heads of state began their visit at the royal chateau in Amboise, where they laid wreaths at Leonardo’s grave. 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.  

Both presidents later headed to 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.  

Among glitterati attending the events were Italian star architect Renzo Piano, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and historian Stephane Bern, a prominent French television personality.  But a new scandal hung over the event after a French arts magazine revealed Tuesday that an investigation had been opened into the alleged destruction of listed property during extensive renovation work at the Clos Luce in 2017.

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