Scholars have been captivated and perplexed by the following mystery for centuries: Who was the mother of Leonardo da Vinci?
There are some known facts. Her name was Caterina, and she began dating the notary Piero da Vinci sometime in 1451. On April 15, 1452, she gave birth to a boy who was born outside of marriage and was named Leonardo. At the Church of Santa Croce in the Italian town of Vinci, some 48 kilometres from Florence, where the baptism most likely took place, there is a memorial stone that lists the artist's birth date.
Researchers have conjectured throughout the years that the artist's mother may have been a local peasant, an orphaned adolescent of low birth, a lady of Jewish or Chinese descent, or perhaps a local peasant woman.
During a sneak peek of a brand-new historical book on Tuesday, another notion that is probably going to fuel the academic discussion was made public in Florence. The book's author, the historian Carlo Vecce, thinks that Leonardo's mother was abducted and sold into slavery when she was a young woman in the Caucasus Mountains in Central Asia.
Il Sorriso di Caterina, or “Caterina's Smile,” is a book with a document written by Leonardo's father, which Prof. Vecce recently discovered in the State Archives of Florence. For the novel, Prof. Vecce, a professor at the Orientale University in Naples, combined reality and fiction to create a turbulent story that follows Caterina as she travels from the Sea of Azov, Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), and Venice to Florence and ultimately Vinci. She passes away in Milan, where she had joined her son, who is employed by the local court, at the conclusion of the story.
“I would classify it as documentary fiction. Since this book combines two conventionally separate genres, it requires an oxymoron to understand it, according to Leonardo specialist and former director of the Galileo Museum in Florence Paolo Galluzzi. According to him, the book, which will be published on Wednesday, gives people personalities, faces, and passion—aspects that are missing from scientific descriptions. Yet he insisted that the study was solid.
Even if “it's a theory” meant to “spur discussion,” Galluzzi said the evidence compiled by Prof. Vecce presented a compelling argument. Around six months after Leonardo's birth, in the autumn of 1452, Prof. Vecce discovered a document. It chronicles the owner's liberation of Caterina, a Circassian lady who had been held captive. Prof. Vecce added at the press conference on Tuesday that additional documents that show a line of ownership and acquaintance with Caterina that is all connected to Leonardo's father strengthen the evidence that the document clearly refers to Leonardo's mother.
A year after Leonardo was born, Piero da Vinci helped organise the union of Caterina and a farmer and kiln worker who resided outside of Vinci. Later, Leonardo's father wed a young Florentine lady. Later, Caterina gave birth to four daughters and a further boy. One may argue that Leonardo's birth was fortunate for both him and the rest of the world. Leonardo da Vinci had the good fortune to be born outside of marriage, the author Walter Isaacson writes in the introduction to his biography of the artist published in 2017. Instead, like the first-born legal boys in his family going back at least five generations, he would have been required to become a notary.
While he noted in a phone conversation last week that a scientific publication was in the works, Prof. Vecce said that he chose to use a literary approach to disseminating his discovery in order to reach a larger audience. He said that Caterina's tale touched him and that it captured the anguish of many contemporary migrants. He remarked on Tuesday, “I felt the importance of relaying the tale in a new manner.
In Caterina's life before to Leonardo, his theory is only the most recent. The researcher Angelo Paratico said that after openly asserting in 2014 that Leonardo's mother was a Chinese lady in slavery, he suddenly found himself in the media limelight. He recounted in a telephone interview: “I'd suggested that if painting was true, as Sigmund Freud had said, that Leonardo had fashioned the Mona Lisa after his mother, then the Mona Lisa was Chinese. He smiled, “You can imagine how people responded.
Renzo Cianchi, the first librarian of the Leonardo Library in Vinci, had previously theorised that Caterina was an enslaved woman who resided in the home of Vanni di Niccolo di Ser Ran, a rich friend of Leonardo's father. This, he said, was the basis for Paratico's argument. The idea that Leonardo's mother was the Caterina possessed by Vanni will once again be put out in a book on the artist's ancestry, according to Alessandro Vezzosi, a Leonardo historian and the director of Leonardo da Vinci Heritage, an organisation that has identified the artist's ancestors.
We are certain that the documents point to Caterina, he said. He said they would share notes after reading Prof. Vecce's book, but he was intrigued to do so. Even if he didn't agree on Caterina's identity, Prof. Vecce said on Tuesday that the prior study by Cianchi and Vezzosi had “directed” his investigation. Slavery was widespread in Italy before it was united in the 19th century, but more study is still needed in this area, according to Giulia Bonazza, a professor at the University of Venice and an expert on the subject. During the 13th century, Genoese and Venetian traders became the main participants in the trafficking of people from Central Asia. Women and non-Christians made up the majority of the casualties. Legally, their kids weren't regarded to be slaves.
They were given Christian names, often Maria or Caterina, once they arrived in Europe, and were then sold as slaves to affluent households. Sergio Tognetti, a professor of mediaeval history at the University of Cagliari and an expert on slavery, stated that while certain households did own slaves, this wasn't the norm. Eventually, some of them were let free by their owners, often as part of a bequest. In a book he co-wrote with an Italian researcher a few years ago, Leonardo specialist Martin Kemp named Leonardo's mother as a local adolescent orphan, while he added that the hypothesis that she was held captive was also “a feasible scenario.”
In an interview, he said that he believed that the mother of Leonardo was a topic that piqued people's interest because, despite the artist having written “thousands and thousands of pages” on a variety of themes, his personality remained somewhat mysterious. Does knowing who Caterina was, however, “truly matter?” he questioned. “The question is, So what? in terms of comprehending his art, science, and engineering?”