- "Why would I spend my time at the workshop when I can go out and have fun?"
- ―Salaì, 1506.[src]
Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno (1480 – 1524), commonly known as Salaì, was Leonardo da Vinci's most famous apprentice, and most likely his lover.
In around 1490, at the young age of ten, Gian was apprenticed to Leonardo da Vinci. The master was drawn to him almost immediately, and on the second day of the apprenticeship, Leonardo had already decided to commission two shirts, a pair of hose, and a jerkin for Gian.
Despite this generosity, Gian stole the money that Leonardo had set aside to pay for the clothing, and refused to confess; though Leonardo was quite certain that he was guilty. On a different occasion, when Leonardo brought Gian with him to dine with Giacomo Andrea, Gian "supped for two and did mischief for four, for he broke three cruets and spilled the wine."
This misbehavior eventually led to Leonardo bestowing on him the nickname "Salaì", after a little devil from the Romantic epic Morgante. Salaì became quite attached to the moniker, and began refusing to answer to his given name.
The two remained close companions nonetheless, and Leonardo would always aid Salaì in his painting compositions, and would frequently bail him out of jail. In turn, Salaì modeled for several of Leonardo's paintings, including his St. John the Baptist.
Apprenticeship in Rome
- Leonardo: "I intended to accompany you to the docks, but we cannot leave my workshop without my assistant."
- Ezio: "Bene. An easy task."
- Leonardo: "I am afraid you underestimate Salaì!"
- —Leonardo and Ezio discussing Salaì, 1499 CE.[src]
Throughout Leonardo's stay at the Villa Auditore in Monteriggioni, to which he had been invited by Mario Auditore and Ezio Auditore da Firenze, he researched the studies of Pythagoras. Upon coming across the location of the catacombs that contained the Temple of Pythagoras in around 1499, he and Salaì relocated to Rome.
There, Leonardo explored the catacombs for years, until he discovered the entrance to the temple. Salaì was meant to watch Leonardo's workshop whenever his master was away, but he could more often be found gambling at the local inn, La Volpe Addormentata.
Around this time, Leonardo would speak openly to Salaì about the temple, the Pieces of Eden, and details about the Assassins he was allied to; a carelessness that irritated Ezio Auditore when he found out, and one that eventually called undue attention from the Cult of Hermes.
- Ezio: "Here! The entrance to the catacombs!"
- Salaì: "Go. Bring him back to me."
- ―Ezio and Salaì discovering Leonardo's location.[src]
In 1506, Ezio Auditore visited Leonardo to ask for his help in chartering a ship, and since the artist could not leave the workshop unattended, Ezio left to retrieve Salaì for him.
Though it took some prompting, Salaì abandoned his Hazard game to accompany Ezio, brushing off his gambling partners' insistence for him to stay. However, the hooded disciples he had been playing with were actually Hermeticists intent on keeping him out of the workshop, and away from Leonardo; who they wished to kidnap to discover the entrance to the Temple of Pythagoras.
Upon failing to stop Salaì from leaving, the Hermeticists attacked both him and Ezio, though the two were able to repel them. Ezio realized the danger to Leonardo's well-being, thus Salaì led the way through the Centro District, using the fastest route back to the workshop, though they arrived too late.
Salaì panicked when he found his master missing, and began calling for him, convinced that he was still in the workshop. Ezio managed to calm him, and asked where Leonardo's discovered catacombs were, but Salaì did not know. After searching the ransacked workshop, they found a clue that Leonardo had left them inscribed on the floor, "Dipinti Della Villa" (Villa Paintings).
Salaì directed Ezio to Lucrezia Borgia's residence, where he knew the villa paintings were, and waited in the workshop until the Assassin had recovered them all. Though they could not find any map hidden in the frame, Salaì recalled that Leonardo had been experimenting with a vanishing ink, and suggested that Ezio use his gift to see any hidden writings.
The Assassin copied down the pieces of the map concealed in the paintings, and pinpointed the location of the temple. As Ezio left, Salaì anxiously bade him to bring Leonardo back to him. In turn, as soon as he was rescued from the Hermeticists, Leonardo also asked about Salaì, and was relieved to hear he was "safe at home".
Personality and characteristics
Though apprenticed under Leonardo, Salaì was carefree and wasteful with money, once even convincing an art merchant that one of his own paintings was by Leonardo, in order to earn enough for a new doublet. He also spent a lot of his time outside of the workshop, and blatantly refused to leave his gambling game even upon being told by Ezio that his master was calling for him.
Salaì was also light-hearted and mischievous; purposefully goading Ezio upon first meeting him, and insisting on trying to make conversation with him even if the Assassin was unresponsive.
Though Salaì constantly stole his master's coin and spent it on fashionable clothing, he also doted on Leonardo, and grew greatly distressed after he was kidnapped. The two remained devoted to each other until Leonardo's death in 1519, at which time Leonardo left his apprentice half of his vineyard, and what would later become his most famous painting, the Mona Lisa.
- Ezio once commented that Salaì fit Leonardo, and that he approved of their relationship; a comment that left Leonardo nervously speechless.
- In 1506, Salaì mentioned that he could not read, and that Leonardo was to teach him.