For four years I researched Leonardo’s known works as well as his “Notebooks #1 and #2”. I studied over six thousand pages of notes, sketches, ancient and contemporary writings and documents pertaining to the Leonardo, his time, his contemporary and the people related to him. The majority of the biographies about Leonardo da Vinci were done by academics that had to base their notes on existing documents about this man. I find them flat and missing the three dimensional facets of Leonardo’s human character.
What really bothers me about these biographies however is the common belief that Leonardo had a happy childhood and upbringing, when the fact is that there is no primary source material to verify this fact. The evidence upon which this belief seems to hand is a letter Leonardo wrote to his father’s first wife, calling her ‘most dear mother’ doesn’t mean he actually cared for or loved this woman. It was a proper and civilized way at that time of communicating with someone, especially if that person, in theory, was part of your family.
Leonardo was born out of wedlock, on April 15 1452, in farmhouse near Vince, Italy. To save his reputation, after Leonardo’s birth, his father, Ser Pierro d’Antonio, arranged for Leonardo’s mother to marry a poor peasant. The child had no right to his birth father’s name, inheritance, or access to higher education that would have accompanied his social status. In the future the boy would sign his name as Leonardo da Vinci, which meant Leonardo, from the town he was born (Vinci).
Although Leonardo never saw the siblings his birth father eventually sired, he heard plenty from them when they tried to cash in on Leonardo’s inheritance. His late uncle had bequeathed him a small farm in Vinci. At that time, as an illegitimate child in Italy, he had no right to have ownership of his life, let alone property. The legal litigation on this issue along, with others brought up by his half-brothers, lasted for over twenty-five years.
Even if the real facts about Leonardo’s childhood and youth are scarce, it is known that he spent the first five years of his life living with his mother in a state of utmost poverty and neglect. When he was six year old is mother abandoned him and left town. His uncle took him in. The scarce evidence from this period in Leonardo’s life shows that he was sent from one place to another until he was fourteen years old, when his birth father finally installed him with the painter Andreas del Verrocchio in Florence as an artist’s apprentice, the only professional choice available to him at that time. Neglect, rejection and the lack of familial support were very much part of Leonardo’s upbringing, a far cry from a happy childhood.
From Leonardo’s mid twenties when he became famous, to late in his life, his birth father not only continued to refuse to legally accept paternity, but also used Leonardo for his own gain. The Mona Lisa painting is…