Sunday, January 14, 2024

Grotta San Giovanni Mystery

Grotta San Giovanni is near Lecco and Lago di Como, in northern Italy. As you can see from above, the views are wonderful! But there's a mystery: did this cave inspire Leonardo da Vinci's painting Madonna (or Virgin) on the Rocks

Some people think so ... you judge by yourself.

Below you see a picture of the London version of the painting (picture credit: National Gallery).

There's a main cave exit hole in the painting on the left. In that exit hole, you can clearly see a similarity between the upper right stalactites and the pillar/stalactites on the right. The main proponent of this idea, Ricardo Magnani, argues about both the similarity of the cave forms and Leonardo's documented travels in the area.

Below you see the pillar a bit more clearly:

In the painting, the view out of the cave is not what you see in reality, the lake shores of lake Lago di Como but rather the nearby mountain landscapes in Val Calolden, Sasso Cavallo, and Sasso Carbonari. Other real elements placed into the painting by Leonardo.  

For more information about the similarities, see article 1, article 2, and article 3. The last article is by Ricardo Magnani.

I have no doubt that other, similarly vaguely resembling cave sceneries can be found. But, the proximity of Leonardo's travels, the ease of access to this cave and closeness to civilization, and the similarity... who knows. Maybe the cave and surrounding mountains did inspire Leonardo. Artists do need inspiration and frequently take elements from nature that they've seen. 

In any case, intriguing, a small cave but well worth a visit for the views!

More pictures from the cave:

The main cave is at coordinates N 45.8788776 E 9.4042302. There are also side caves:

  • Side cave 2, a more prepared cave with steps and stone walking platforms is at coordinates N 45.879205, E 9.404845.

  • Finally, the biggest cave is taken over by a cemetery, housing family burial buildings. It is at coordinates N 45.8797179 E 9.4047744. The church of S.Giovanni ai Morti is mentioned for the first time in 1289, and the cemetery around it has been expanded several times.

This Grotta San Giovanni should not be mixed with another Grotta San Giovanni in Sardinia.

Read more urban exploration stories from, and other underground stories from Read the full Planetskier series at, or all blog articles from Blogspot or TGR. Photos and text (c) 2024 by Jari Arkko. The painting image credits are by National Gallery from Wikipedia, and is in the public domain. All rights reserved. 

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