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Title: Leonardo da Vinci - A Psychosexual Study of an Infantile Reminiscence
Author: Freud, Sigmund, 1856-1939
Language: English
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[Illustration: LEONARDO DA VINCI]

Leonardo da Vinci




A. A. BRILL, PH.B., M.D.

Lecturer in Psychoanalysis and Abnormal
Psychology, New York University






Leonardo Da Vinci       _Frontispiece_


Mona Lisa       78

Saint Anne       86

John the Baptist       94



When psychoanalytic investigation, which usually contents itself with
frail human material, approaches the great personages of humanity, it is
not impelled to it by motives which are often attributed to it by
laymen. It does not strive "to blacken the radiant and to drag the
sublime into the mire"; it finds no satisfaction in diminishing the
distance between the perfection of the great and the inadequacy of the
ordinary objects. But it cannot help finding that everything is worthy
of understanding that can be perceived through those prototypes, and it
also believes that none is so big as to be ashamed of being subject to
the laws which control the normal and morbid actions with the same

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was admired even by his contemporaries as
one of the greatest men of the Italian Renaissance, still even then he
appeared as mysterious to them as he now appears to us. An all-sided
genius, "whose form can only be divined but never deeply fathomed,"[1]
he exerted the most decisive influence on his time as an artist; and it
remained to us to recognize his greatness as a naturalist which was
united in him with the artist. Although he left masterpieces of the art
of painting, while his scientific discoveries remained unpublished and
unused, the investigator in him has never quite left the artist, often
it has severely injured the artist and in the end it has perhaps
suppressed the artist altogether. According to Vasari, Leonardo
reproached himself during the last hour of his life for having insulted
God and men because he has not done his duty to his art.[2] And even if
Vasari's story lacks all probability and belongs to those legends which
began to be woven about the mystic master while he was still living, it
nevertheless retains indisputable value as a testimonial of the judgment
of those people and of those times.

What was it that removed the personality of Leonardo from the
understanding of his contemporaries? Certainly not the many sidedness of
his capacities and knowledge, which allowed him to install himself as a
player of the lyre on an instrument invented by himself, in the court of
Lodovico Sforza, nicknamed Il Moro, the Duke of Milan, or which allowed
him to write to the same person that remarkable letter in which he
boasts of his abilities as a civil and military engineer. For the
combination of manifold talents in the same person was not unusual in
the times of the Renaissance; to be sure Leonardo himself furnished one
of the most splendid examples of such persons. Nor did he belong to that
type of genial persons who are outwardly poorly endowed by nature, and
who on their side place no value on the outer forms of life, and in the
painful gloominess of their feelings fly from human relations. On the
contrary he was tall and symmetrically built, of consummate beauty of
countenance and of unusual physical strength, he was charming in his
manner, a master of speech, and jovial and affectionate to everybody. He
loved beauty in the objects of his surroundings, he was fond of wearing
magnificent garments and appreciated every refinement of conduct. In his
treatise[3] on the art of painting he compares in a significant passage
the art of painting with its sister arts and thus discusses the
difficulties of the sculptor: "Now his face is entirely smeared and
powdered with marble dust, so that he looks like a baker, he is covered
with small marble splinters, so that it seems as if it snowed on his
back, and his house is full of stone splinters, and dust. The case of
the painter is quite different from that; for the painter is well
dressed and sits with great comfort before his work, he gently and very
lightly brushes in the beautiful colors. He wears as decorative clothes
as he likes, and his house is filled with beautiful paintings and is
spotlessly clean. He often enjoys company, music, or some one may read
for him various nice works, and all this can be listened to with great
pleasure, undisturbed by any pounding from the hammer and other noises."

It is quite possible that the conception of a beaming jovial and happy
Leonardo was true only for the first and longer period of the master's
life. From now on, when the downfall of the rule of Lodovico Moro forced
him to leave Milan, his sphere of action and his assured position, to
lead an unsteady and unsuccessful life until his last asylum in France,
it is possible that the luster of his disposition became pale and some
odd features of his character became more prominent. The turning of his
interest from his art to science which increased with age must have also
been responsible for widening the gap between himself and his
contemporaries. All his efforts with which, according to their opinion,
he wasted his time instead of diligently filling orders and becoming
rich as perhaps his former classmate Perugino, seemed to his
contemporaries as capricious playing, or even caused them to suspect him
of being in the service of the "black art." We who know him from his
sketches understand him better. In a time in which the authority of the
church began to be substituted by that of antiquity and in which only
theoretical investigation existed, he the forerunner, or better the
worthy competitor of Bacon and Copernicus, was necessarily isolated.
When he dissected cadavers of horses and human beings, and built flying
apparatus, or when he studied the nourishment of plants and their
behavior towards poisons, he naturally deviated much from the
commentators of Aristotle and came nearer the despised alchemists, in
whose laboratories the experimental investigations found some refuge
during these unfavorable times.

The effect that this had on his paintings was that he disliked to handle
the brush, he painted less and what was more often the case, the things
he began were mostly left unfinished; he cared less and less for the
future fate of his works. It was this mode of working that was held up
to him as a reproach from his contemporaries to whom his behavior to his
art remained a riddle.

Many of Leonardo's later admirers have attempted to wipe off the stain
of unsteadiness from his character. They maintained that what is blamed
in Leonardo is a general characteristic of great artists. They said that
even the energetic Michelangelo who was absorbed in his work left many
incompleted works, which was as little due to his fault as to Leonardo's
in the same case. Besides some pictures were not as unfinished as he
claimed, and what the layman would call a masterpiece may still appear
to the creator of the work of art as an unsatisfied embodiment of his
intentions; he has a faint notion of a perfection which he despairs of
reproducing in likeness. Least of all should the artist be held
responsible for the fate which befalls his works.

As plausible as some of these excuses may sound they nevertheless do not
explain the whole state of affairs which we find in Leonardo. The
painful struggle with the work, the final flight from it and the
indifference to its future fate may be seen in many other artists, but
this behavior is shown in Leonardo to highest degree. Edm. Solmi[4]
cites (p. 12) the expression of one of his pupils: "Pareva, che ad ogni
ora tremasse, quando si poneva a dipingere, e però no diede mai fine ad
alcuna cosa cominciata, considerando la grandezza dell'arte, tal che
egli scorgeva errori in quelle cose, che ad altri parevano miracoli."
His last pictures, Leda, the Madonna di Saint Onofrio, Bacchus and St.
John the Baptist, remained unfinished "come quasi intervenne di tutte le
cose sue." Lomazzo,[5] who finished a copy of The Holy Supper, refers in
a sonnet to the familiar inability of Leonardo to finish his works:

    "Protogen che il penel di sue pitture
     Non levava, agguaglio il Vinci Divo,
     Di cui opra non è finita pure."

The slowness with which Leonardo worked was proverbial. After the most
thorough preliminary studies he painted The Holy Supper for three years
in the cloister of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. One of his
contemporaries, Matteo Bandelli, the writer of novels, who was then a
young monk in the cloister, relates that Leonardo often ascended the
scaffold very early in the morning and did not leave the brush out of
his hand until twilight, never thinking of eating or drinking. Then days
passed without putting his hand on it, sometimes he remained for hours
before the painting and derived satisfaction from studying it by
himself. At other times he came directly to the cloister from the palace
of the Milanese Castle where he formed the model of the equestrian
statue for Francesco Sforza, in order to add a few strokes with the
brush to one of the figures and then stopped immediately.[6] According
to Vasari he worked for years on the portrait of Monna Lisa, the wife of
the Florentine de Gioconda, without being able to bring it to
completion. This circumstance may also account for the fact that it was
never delivered to the one who ordered it but remained with Leonardo who
took it with him to France.[7] Having been procured by King Francis I,
it now forms one of the greatest treasures of the Louvre.

When one compares these reports about Leonardo's way of working with the
evidence of the extraordinary amount of sketches and studies left by
him, one is bound altogether to reject the idea that traits of
flightiness and unsteadiness exerted the slightest influence on
Leonardo's relation to his art. On the contrary one notices a very
extraordinary absorption in work, a richness in possibilities in which a
decision could be reached only hestitatingly, claims which could hardly
be satisfied, and an inhibition in the execution which could not even be
explained by the inevitable backwardness of the artist behind his ideal
purpose. The slowness which was striking in Leonardo's works from the
very beginning proved to be a symptom of his inhibition, a forerunner of
his turning away from painting which manifested itself later.[8] It was
this slowness which decided the not undeserving fate of The Holy
Supper. Leonardo could not take kindly to the art of fresco painting
which demands quick work while the background is still moist, it was for
this reason that he chose oil colors, the drying of which permitted him
to complete the picture according to his mood and leisure. But these
colors separated themselves from the background upon which they were
painted and which isolated them from the brick wall; the blemishes of
this wall and the vicissitudes to which the room was subjected seemingly
contributed to the inevitable deterioration of the picture.[9]

The picture of the cavalry battle of Anghiari, which in competition with
Michelangelo he began to paint later on a wall of the Sala de Consiglio
in Florence and which he also left in an unfinished state, seemed to
have perished through the failure of a similar technical process. It
seems here as if a peculiar interest, that of the experimenter, at first
reënforced the artistic, only later to damage the art production.

The character of the man Leonardo evinces still some other unusual
traits and apparent contradictions. Thus a certain inactivity and
indifference seemed very evident in him. At a time when every individual
sought to gain the widest latitude for his activity, which could not
take place without the development of energetic aggression towards
others, he surprised every one through his quiet peacefulness, his
shunning of all competition and controversies. He was mild and kind to
all, he was said to have rejected a meat diet because he did not
consider it just to rob animals of their lives, and one of his special
pleasures was to buy caged birds in the market and set them free.[10] He
condemned war and bloodshed and designated man not so much as the king
of the animal world, but rather as the worst of the wild beasts.[11] But
this effeminate delicacy of feeling did not prevent him from
accompanying condemned criminals on their way to execution in order to
study and sketch in his notebook their features, distorted by fear, nor
did it prevent him from inventing the most cruel offensive weapons, and
from entering the service of Cesare Borgia as chief military engineer.
Often he seemed to be indifferent to good and evil, or he had to be
measured with a special standard. He held a high position in Cesare's
campaign which gained for this most inconsiderate and most faithless of
foes the possession of the Romagna. Not a single line of Leonardo's
sketches betrays any criticism or sympathy of the events of those days.
The comparison with Goethe during the French campaign cannot here be
altogether rejected.

If a biographical effort really endeavors to penetrate the understanding
of the psychic life of its hero it must not, as happens in most
biographies through discretion or prudery, pass over in silence the
sexual activity or the sex peculiarity of the one examined. What we know
about it in Leonardo is very little but full of significance. In a
period where there was a constant struggle between riotous
licentiousness and gloomy asceticism, Leonardo presented an example of
cool sexual rejection which one would not expect in an artist and a
portrayer of feminine beauty. Solmi[12] cites the following sentence
from Leonardo showing his frigidity: "The act of procreation and
everything that has any relation to it is so disgusting that human
beings would soon die out if it were not a traditional custom and if
there were no pretty faces and sensuous dispositions." His posthumous
works which not only treat of the greatest scientific problems but also
comprise the most guileless objects which to us do not seem worthy of so
great a mind (an allegorical natural history, animal fables, witticisms,
prophecies),[13] are chaste to a degree--one might say abstinent--that
in a work of _belle lettres_ would excite wonder even to-day. They evade
everything sexual so thoroughly, as if Eros alone who preserves
everything living was no worthy material for the scientific impulse of
the investigator.[14] It is known how frequently great artists found
pleasure in giving vent to their phantasies in erotic and even grossly
obscene representations; in contradistinction to this Leonardo left only
some anatomical drawings of the woman's internal genitals, the position
of the child in the womb, etc.

It is doubtful whether Leonardo ever embraced a woman in love, nor is it
known that he ever entertained an intimate spiritual relation with a
woman as in the case of Michelangelo and Vittoria Colonna. While he
still lived as an apprentice in the house of his master Verrocchio, he
with other young men were accused of forbidden homosexual relations
which ended in his acquittal. It seems that he came into this suspicion
because he employed as a model a boy of evil repute.[15] When he was a
master he surrounded himself with handsome boys and youths whom he took
as pupils. The last of these pupils Francesco Melzi, accompanied him to
France, remained with him until his death, and was named by him as his
heir. Without sharing the certainty of his modern biographers, who
naturally reject the possibility of a sexual relation between himself
and his pupils as a baseless insult to this great man, it may be thought
by far more probable that the affectionate relationships of Leonardo to
the young men did not result in sexual activity. Nor should one
attribute to him a high measure of sexual activity.

The peculiarity of this emotional and sexual life viewed in connection
with Leonardo's double nature as an artist and investigator can be
grasped only in one way. Of the biographers to whom psychological
viewpoints are often very foreign, only one, Edm. Solmi, has to my
knowledge approached the solution of the riddle. But a writer, Dimitri
Sergewitsch Merejkowski, who selected Leonardo as the hero of a great
historical novel has based his delineation on such an understanding of
this unusual man, and if not in dry words he gave unmistakable
utterance in plastic expression in the manner of a poet.[16] Solmi
judges Leonardo as follows: "But the unrequited desire to understand
everything surrounding him, and with cold reflection to discover the
deepest secret of everything that is perfect, has condemned Leonardo's
works to remain forever unfinished."[17] In an essay of the Conferenze
Fiorentine the utterances of Leonardo are cited, which show his
confession of faith and furnish the key to his character.

    "_Nessuna cosa si può amare nè odiare, se_
     _prima no si ha cognition di quella._"[18]

That is: One has no right to love or to hate anything if one has not
acquired a thorough knowledge of its nature. And the same is repeated by
Leonardo in a passage of the Treaties on the Art of Painting where he
seems to defend himself against the accusation of irreligiousness:

"But such censurers might better remain silent. For that action is the
manner of showing the workmaster so many wonderful things, and this is
the way to love so great a discoverer. For, verily great love springs
from great knowledge of the beloved object, and if you little know it
you will be able to love it only little or not at all."[19]

The value of these utterances of Leonardo cannot be found in that they
impart to us an important psychological fact, for what they maintain is
obviously false, and Leonardo must have known this as well as we do. It
is not true that people refrain from loving or hating until they have
studied and became familiar with the nature of the object to whom they
wish to give these affects, on the contrary they love impulsively and
are guided by emotional motives which have nothing to do with cognition
and whose affects are weakened, if anything, by thought and reflection.
Leonardo only could have implied that the love practiced by people is
not of the proper and unobjectionable kind, one should so love as to
hold back the affect and to subject it to mental elaboration, and only
after it has stood the test of the intellect should free play be given
to it. And we thereby understand that he wishes to tell us that this was
the case with himself and that it would be worth the effort of everybody
else to treat love and hatred as he himself does.

And it seems that in his case it was really so. His affects were
controlled and subjected to the investigation impulse, he neither loved
nor hated, but questioned himself whence does that arise, which he was
to love or hate, and what does it signify, and thus he was at first
forced to appear indifferent to good and evil, to beauty and ugliness.
During this work of investigation love and hatred threw off their
designs and uniformly changed into intellectual interest. As a matter of
fact Leonardo was not dispassionate, he did not lack the divine spark
which is the mediate or immediate motive power--_il primo motore_--of
all human activity. He only transmuted his passion into
inquisitiveness. He then applied himself to study with that
persistence, steadiness, and profundity which comes from passion, and on
the height of the psychic work, after the cognition was won, he allowed
the long checked affect to break loose and to flow off freely like a
branch of a stream, after it has accomplished its work. At the height of
his cognition when he could examine a big part of the whole he was
seized with a feeling of pathos, and in ecstatic words he praised the
grandeur of that part of creation which he studied, or--in religious
cloak--the greatness of the creator. Solmi has correctly divined this
process of transformation in Leonardo. According to the quotation of
such a passage, in which Leonardo celebrated the higher impulse of
nature ("O mirabile necessita ... ") he said: "Tale trasfigurazione
della scienza della natura in emozione, quasi direi, religiosa, è uno
dei tratti caratteristici de manoscritti vinciani, e si trova cento e
cento volte espressa...."[20]

Leonardo was called the Italian Faust on account of his insatiable and
indefatigable desire for investigation. But even if we disregard the
fact that it is the possible retransformation of the desire for
investigation into the joys of life which is presupposed in the Faust
tragedy, one might venture to remark that Leonardo's system recalls
Spinoza's mode of thinking.

The transformation of psychic motive power into the different forms of
activity is perhaps as little convertible without loss, as in the case
of physical powers. Leonardo's example teaches how many other things one
must follow up in these processes. Not to love before one gains full
knowledge of the thing loved presupposes a delay which is harmful. When
one finally reaches cognition he neither loves nor hates properly; one
remains beyond love and hatred. One has investigated instead of having
loved. It is perhaps for this reason that Leonardo's life was so much
poorer in love than those of other great men and great artists. The
storming passions of the soul-stirring and consuming kind, in which
others experience the best part of their lives, seem to have missed

There are still other consequences when one follows Leonardo's dictum.
Instead of acting and producing one just investigates. He who begins to
divine the grandeur of the universe and its needs readily forgets his
own insignificant self. When one is struck with admiration and becomes
truly humble he easily forgets that he himself is a part of that living
force, and that according to the measure of his own personality he has
the right to make an effort to change that destined course of the world,
the world in which the insignificant is no less wonderful and important
than the great.

Solmi thinks that Leonardo's investigations started with his art,[21] he
tried to investigate the attributes and laws of light, of color, of
shades and of perspective so as to be sure of becoming a master in the
imitation of nature and to be able to show the way to others. It is
probable that already at that time he overestimated the value of this
knowledge for the artist. Following the guide-rope of the painter's
need, he was then driven further and further to investigate the objects
of the art of painting, such as animals and plants, and the proportions
of the human body, and to follow the path from their exterior to their
interior structure and biological functions, which really also express
themselves in their appearance and should be depicted in art. And
finally he was pulled along by this overwhelming desire until the
connection was torn from the demands of his art, so that he discovered
the general laws of mechanics and divined the history of the
stratification and fossilization of the Arno-valley, until he could
enter in his book with capital letters the cognition: _Il sole non si
move_ (The sun does not move). His investigations were thus extended
over almost all realms of natural science, in every one of which he was
a discoverer or at least a prophet or forerunner.[22] However, his
curiosity continued to be directed to the outer world, something kept
him away from the investigation of the psychic life of men; there was
little room for psychology in the "Academia Vinciana," for which he drew
very artistic and very complicated emblems.

When he later made the effort to return from his investigations to the
art from which he started he felt that he was disturbed by the new paths
of his interest and by the changed nature of his psychic work. In the
picture he was interested above all in a problem, and behind this one he
saw emerging numerous other problems just as he was accustomed in the
endless and indeterminable investigations of natural history. He was no
longer able to limit his demands, to isolate the work of art, and to
tear it out from that great connection of which he knew it formed part.
After the most exhausting efforts to bring to expression all that was in
him, all that was connected with it in his thoughts, he was forced to
leave it unfinished, or to declare it incomplete.

The artist had once taken into his service the investigator to assist
him, now the servant was stronger and suppressed his master.

When we find in the portrait of a person one single impulse very
forcibly developed, as curiosity in the case of Leonardo, we look for
the explanation in a special constitution, concerning its probable
organic determination hardly anything is known. Our psychoanalytic
studies of nervous people lead us to look for two other expectations
which we would like to find verified in every case. We consider it
probable that this very forcible impulse was already active in the
earliest childhood of the person, and that its supreme sway was fixed by
infantile impressions; and we further assume that originally it drew
upon sexual motive powers for its reënforcement so that it later can
take the place of a part of the sexual life. Such person would then,
e.g., investigate with that passionate devotion which another would give
to his love, and he could investigate instead of loving. We would
venture the conclusion of a sexual reënforcement not only in the impulse
to investigate, but also in most other cases of special intensity of an

Observation of daily life shows us that most persons have the capacity
to direct a very tangible part of their sexual motive powers to their
professional or business activities. The sexual impulse is particularly
suited to yield such contributions because it is endowed with the
capacity of sublimation, i.e., it has the power to exchange its nearest
aim for others of higher value which are not sexual. We consider this
process as proved, if the history of childhood or the psychic
developmental history of a person shows that in childhood this powerful
impulse was in the service of the sexual interest. We consider it a
further corroboration if this is substantiated by a striking stunting in
the sexual life of mature years, as if a part of the sexual activity had
now been replaced by the activity of the predominant impulse.

The application of these assumptions to the case of the predominant
investigation-impulse seems to be subject to special difficulties, as
one is unwilling to admit that this serious impulse exists in children
or that children show any noteworthy sexual interest. However, these
difficulties are easily obviated. The untiring pleasure in questioning
as seen in little children demonstrates their curiosity, which is
puzzling to the grown-up, as long as he does not understand that all
these questions are only circumlocutions, and that they cannot come to
an end because they replace only one question which the child does not
put. When the child becomes older and gains more understanding this
manifestation of curiosity suddenly disappears. But psychoanalytic
investigation gives us a full explanation in that it teaches us that
many, perhaps most children, at least the most gifted ones, go through a
period beginning with the third year, which may be designated as the
period of _infantile sexual investigation_. As far as we know, the
curiosity is not awakened spontaneously in children of this age, but is
aroused through the impression of an important experience, through the
birth of a little brother or sister, or through fear of the same
endangered by some outward experience, wherein the child sees a danger
to his egotistic interests. The investigation directs itself to the
question whence children come, as if the child were looking for means
to guard against such undesired event. We were astonished to find that
the child refuses to give credence to the information imparted to it,
e.g., it energetically rejects the mythological and so ingenious
stork-fable, we were astonished to find that its psychic independence
dates from this act of disbelief, that it often feels itself at serious
variance with the grown-ups, and never forgives them for having been
deceived of the truth on this occasion. It investigates in its own way,
it divines that the child is in the mother's womb, and guided by the
feelings of its own sexuality, it formulates for itself theories about
the origin of children from food, about being born through the bowels,
about the rôle of the father which is difficult to fathom, and even at
that time it has a vague conception of the sexual act which appears to
the child as something hostile, as something violent. But as its own
sexual constitution is not yet equal to the task of producing children,
his investigation whence come children must also run aground and must be
left in the lurch as unfinished. The impression of this failure at the
first attempt of intellectual independence seems to be of a persevering
and profoundly depressing nature.[23]

If the period of infantile sexual investigation comes to an end through
an impetus of energetic sexual repression, the early association with
sexual interest may result in three different possibilities for the
future fate of the investigation impulse. The investigation either
shares the fate of the sexuality, the curiosity henceforth remains
inhibited and the free activity of intelligence may become narrowed for
life; this is especially made possible by the powerful religious
inhibition of thought, which is brought about shortly hereafter through
education. This is the type of neurotic inhibition. We know well that
the so acquired mental weakness furnishes effective support for the
outbreak of a neurotic disease. In a second type the intellectual
development is sufficiently strong to withstand the sexual repression
pulling at it. Sometimes after the disappearance of the infantile sexual
investigation, it offers its support to the old association in order to
elude the sexual repression, and the suppressed sexual investigation
comes back from the unconscious as compulsive reasoning, it is naturally
distorted and not free, but forceful enough to sexualize even thought
itself and to accentuate the intellectual operations with the pleasure
and fear of the actual sexual processes. Here the investigation becomes
sexual activity and often exclusively so, the feeling of settling the
problem and of explaining things in the mind is put in place of sexual
gratification. But the indeterminate character of the infantile
investigation repeats itself also in the fact that this reasoning never
ends, and that the desired intellectual feeling of the solution
constantly recedes into the distance. By virtue of a special disposition
the third, which is the most rare and most perfect type, escapes the
inhibition of thought and the compulsive reasoning. Also here sexual
repression takes place, it is unable, however, to direct a partial
impulse of the sexual pleasure into the unconscious, but the libido
withdraws from the fate of the repression by being sublimated from the
beginning into curiosity, and by reënforcing the powerful investigation
impulse. Here, too, the investigation becomes more or less compulsive
and a substitute of the sexual activity, but owing to the absolute
difference of the psychic process behind it (sublimation in place of the
emergence from the unconscious) the character of the neurosis does not
manifest itself, the subjection to the original complexes of the
infantile sexual investigation disappears, and the impulse can freely
put itself in the service of the intellectual interest. It takes account
of the sexual repression which made it so strong in contributing to it
sublimated libido, by avoiding all occupation with sexual themes.

In mentioning the concurrence in Leonardo of the powerful investigation
impulse with the stunting of his sexual life which was limited to the
so-called ideal homosexuality, we feel inclined to consider him as a
model example of our third type. The most essential point of his
character and the secret of it seems to lie in the fact, that after
utilizing the infantile activity of curiosity in the service of sexual
interest he was able to sublimate the greater part of his libido into
the impulse of investigation. But to be sure the proof of this
conception is not easy to produce. To do this we would have to have an
insight into the psychic development of his first childhood years, and
it seems foolish to hope for such material when the reports concerning
his life are so meager and so uncertain; and moreover, when we deal with
information which even persons of our own generation withdraw from the
attention of the observer.

We know very little concerning Leonardo's youth. He was born in 1452 in
the little city of Vinci between Florence and Empoli; he was an
illegitimate child which was surely not considered a great popular stain
in that time. His father was Ser Piero da Vinci, a notary and descendant
of notaries and farmers, who took their name from the place Vinci; his
mother, a certain Caterina, probably a peasant girl, who later married
another native of Vinci. Nothing else about his mother appears in the
life history of Leonardo, only the writer Merejkowski believed to have
found some traces of her. The only definite information about Leonardo's
childhood is furnished by a legal document from the year 1457, a
register of assessment in which Vinci Leonardo is mentioned among the
members of the family as a five-year-old illegitimate child of Ser
Piero.[24] As the marriage of Ser Piero with Donna Albiera remained
childless the little Leonardo could be brought up in his father's house.
He did not leave this house until he entered as apprentice--it is not
known what year--in the studio of Andrea del Verrocchio. In 1472
Leonardo's name could already be found in the register of the members of
the "Compagnia dei Pittori." That is all.


As far as I know Leonardo only once interspersed in his scientific
descriptions a communication from his childhood. In a passage where he
speaks about the flight of the vulture, he suddenly interrupts himself
in order to follow up a memory from very early years which came to his

"_It seems that it had been destined before that I should occupy myself
so thoroughly with the vulture, for it comes to my mind as a very early
memory, when I was still in the cradle, a vulture came down to me, he
opened my mouth with his tail and struck me a few times with his tail
against my lips._"[25]

We have here an infantile memory and to be sure of the strangest sort.
It is strange on account of its content and account of the time of life
in which it was fixed. That a person could retain a memory of the
nursing period is perhaps not impossible, but it can in no way be taken
as certain. But what this memory of Leonardo states, namely, that a
vulture opened the child's mouth with its tail, sounds so improbable, so
fabulous, that another conception which puts an end to the two
difficulties with one stroke appeals much more to our judgment. The
scene of the vulture is not a memory of Leonardo, but a phantasy which
he formed later, and transferred into his childhood. The childhood
memories of persons often have no different origin, as a matter of fact,
they are not fixated from an experience like the conscious memories from
the time of maturity and then repeated, but they are not produced until
a later period when childhood is already past, they are then changed and
disguised and put in the service of later tendencies, so that in general
they cannot be strictly differentiated from phantasies. Their nature
will perhaps be best understood by recalling the manner in which history
writing originated among ancient nations. As long as the nation was
small and weak it gave no thought to the writing of its history, it
tilled the soil of its land, defended its existence against its
neighbors by seeking to wrest land from them and endeavored to become
rich. It was a heroic but unhistoric time. Then came another age, a
period of self-realization in which one felt rich and powerful, and it
was then that one experienced the need to discover whence one originated
and how one developed. The history-writing which then continues to
register the present events throws also its backward glance to the past,
it gathers traditions and legends, it interprets what survived from
olden times into customs and uses, and thus creates a history of past
ages. It is quite natural that this history of the past ages is more the
expressions of opinions and desires of the present than a faithful
picture of the past, for many a thing escaped the people's memory, other
things became distorted, some trace of the past was misunderstood and
interpreted in the sense of the present; and besides one does not write
history through motives of objective curiosity, but because one desires
to impress his contemporaries, to stimulate and extol them, or to hold
the mirror before them. The conscious memory of a person concerning the
experiences of his maturity may now be fully compared to that of history
writing, and his infantile memories, as far as their origin and
reliability are concerned will actually correspond to the history of the
primitive period of a people which was compiled later with purposive

Now one may think that if Leonardo's story of the vulture which visited
him in his cradle is only a phantasy of later birth, it is hardly worth
while giving more time to it. One could easily explain it by his openly
avowed inclination to occupy himself with the problem of the flight of
the bird which would lend to this phantasy an air of predetermined fate.
But with this depreciation one commits as great an injustice as if one
would simply ignore the material of legends, traditions, and
interpretations in the primitive history of a people. Notwithstanding
all distortions and misunderstandings to the contrary they still
represent the reality of the past; they represent what the people formed
out of the experiences of its past age under the domination of once
powerful and to-day still effective motives, and if these distortions
could be unraveled through the knowledge of all effective forces, one
would surely discover the historic truth under this legendary material.
The same holds true for the infantile reminiscences or for the
phantasies of individuals. What a person thinks he recalls from his
childhood, is not of an indifferent nature. As a rule the memory
remnants, which he himself does not understand, conceal invaluable
evidences of the most important features of his psychic development. As
the psychoanalytic technique affords us excellent means for bringing to
light this concealed material, we shall venture the attempt to fill the
gaps in the history of Leonardo's life through the analysis of his
infantile phantasy. And if we should not attain a satisfactory degree of
certainty, we will have to console ourselves with the fact that so many
other investigations about this great and mysterious man have met no
better fate.

When we examine Leonardo's vulture-phantasy with the eyes of a
psychoanalyst then it does not seem strange very long; we recall that we
have often found similar structures in dreams, so that we may venture
to translate this phantasy from its strange language into words that are
universally understood. The translation then follows an erotic
direction. Tail, "coda," is one of the most familiar symbols, as well as
a substitutive designation of the male member which is no less true in
Italian than in other languages. The situation contained in the
phantasy, that a vulture opened the mouth of the child and forcefully
belabored it with its tail, corresponds to the idea of fellatio, a
sexual act in which the member is placed into the mouth of the other
person. Strangely enough this phantasy is altogether of a passive
character; it resembles certain dreams and phantasies of women and of
passive homosexuals who play the feminine part in sexual relations.

Let the reader be patient for a while and not flare up with indignation
and refuse to follow psychoanalysis because in its very first
applications it leads to an unpardonable slander of the memory of a
great and pure man. For it is quite certain that this indignation will
never solve for us the meaning of Leonardo's childhood phantasy; on the
other hand, Leonardo has unequivocally acknowledged this phantasy, and
we shall therefore not relinquish the expectation--or if you prefer the
preconception--that like every psychic production such as dreams,
visions and deliria this phantasy, too, must have some meaning. Let us
therefore lend our unprejudiced ears for a while to psychoanalytic work
which after all has not yet uttered the last word.

The desire to take the male member into the mouth and suck it, which is
considered as one of the most disgusting of sexual perversions, is
nevertheless a frequent occurrence among the women of our time--and as
shown in old sculptures was the same in earlier times--and in the state
of being in love seems to lose entirely its disgusting character. The
physician encounters phantasies based on this desire, even in women who
did not come to the knowledge of the possibility of such sexual
gratification by reading V. Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis or
through other information. It seems that it is quite easy for the women
themselves to produce such wish-phantasies.[26] Investigation then
teaches us that this situation, so forcibly condemned by custom, may be
traced to the most harmless origin. It is nothing but the elaboration of
another situation in which we all once felt comfort, namely, when we
were in the suckling-age ("when I was still in the cradle") and took the
nipple of our mother's or wet-nurse's breast into our mouth to suck it.
The organic impression of this first pleasure in our lives surely
remains indelibly impregnated; when the child later learns to know the
udder of the cow, which in function is a breast-nipple, but in shape and
in position on the abdomen resembles the penis, it obtains the primary
basis for the later formation of that disgusting sexual phantasy.

We now understand why Leonardo displaced the memory of the supposed
experience with the vulture to his nursing period. This phantasy
conceals nothing more or less than a reminiscence of nursing--or being
nursed--at the mother's breast, a scene both human and beautiful, which
he as well as other artists undertook to depict with the brush in the
form of the mother of God and her child. At all events, we also wish to
maintain, something we do not as yet understand, that this reminiscence,
equally significant for both sexes, was elaborated in the man Leonardo
into a passive homosexual phantasy. For the present we shall not take up
the question as to what connection there is between homosexuality and
suckling at the mother's breast, we merely wish to recall that tradition
actually designates Leonardo as a person of homosexual feelings. In
considering this, it makes no difference whether that accusation against
the youth Leonardo was justified or not. It is not the real activity but
the nature of the feeling which causes us to decide whether to attribute
to some one the characteristic of homosexuality.

Another incomprehensible feature of Leonardo's infantile phantasy next
claims our interest. We interpret the phantasy of being wet-nursed by
the mother and find that the mother is replaced by a vulture. Where does
this vulture originate and how does he come into this place?

A thought now obtrudes itself which seems so remote that one is tempted
to ignore it. In the sacred hieroglyphics of the old Egyptians the
mother is represented by the picture of the vulture.[27] These Egyptians
also worshiped a motherly deity, whose head was vulture like, or who had
many heads of which at least one or two was that of a vulture.[28] The
name of this goddess was pronounced _Mut_; we may question whether the
sound similarity to our word mother (Mutter) is only accidental? So the
vulture really has some connection with the mother, but of what help is
that to us? Have we a right to attribute this knowledge to Leonardo when
François Champollion first succeeded in reading hieroglyphics between

It would also be interesting to discover in what way the old Egyptians
came to choose the vulture as a symbol of motherhood. As a matter of
fact the religion and culture of Egyptians were subjects of scientific
interest even to the Greeks and Romans, and long before we ourselves
were able to read the Egyptian monuments we had at our disposal some
communications about them from preserved works of classical antiquity.
Some of these writings belonged to familiar authors like Strabo,
Plutarch, Aminianus Marcellus, and some bear unfamiliar names and are
uncertain as to origin and time, like the hieroglyphica of Horapollo
Nilus, and like the traditional book of oriental priestly wisdom bearing
the godly name Hermes Trismegistos. From these sources we learn that the
vulture was a symbol of motherhood because it was thought that this
species of birds had only female vultures and no males.[30] The natural
history of the ancients shows a counterpart to this limitation among the
scarebæus beetles which were revered by the Egyptians as godly, no
females were supposed to exist.[31]

But how does impregnation take place in vultures if only females exist?
This is fully answered in a passage of Horapollo.[32] At a certain time
these birds stop in the midst of their flight, open their vagina and are
impregnated by the wind.

Unexpectedly we have now reached a point where we can take something as
quite probable which only shortly before we had to reject as absurd. It
is quite possible that Leonardo was well acquainted with the scientific
fable, according to which the Egyptians represented the idea of mother
with the picture of the vulture. He was an omnivorous reader whose
interest comprised all spheres of literature and knowledge. In the Codex
Atlanticus we find an index of all books which he possessed at a certain
time,[33] as well as numerous notices about other books which he
borrowed from friends, and according to the excerpts which Fr.
Richter[34] compiled from his drawings we can hardly overestimate the
extent of his reading. Among these books there was no lack of older as
well as contemporary works treating of natural history. All these books
were already in print at that time, and it so happens that Milan was the
principal place of the young art of book printing in Italy.

When we proceed further we come upon a communication which may raise to
a certainty the probability that Leonardo knew the vulture fable. The
erudite editor and commentator of Horapollo remarked in connection with
the text (p. 172) cited before: _Caeterum hanc fabulam de vulturibus
cupide amplexi sunt Patres Ecclesiastici, ut ita argumento ex rerum
natura petito refutarent eos, qui Virginis partum negabant; itaque apud
omnes fere hujus rei mentio occurit._

Hence the fable of the monosexuality and the conception of the vulture
by no means remained as an indifferent anecdote as in the case of the
analogous fable of the scarebæus beetles; that church fathers mastered
it in order to have it ready as an argument from natural history against
those who doubted the sacred history. If according the best information
from antiquity the vultures were directed to let themselves be
impregnated by the wind, why should the same thing not have happened
even once in a human female? On account of this use the church fathers
were "almost all" in the habit of relating this vulture fable, and now
it can hardly remain doubtful that it also became known to Leonardo
through so powerful a source.

The origin of Leonardo's vulture phantasy can be conceived in the
following manner: While reading in the writings of a church father or in
a book on natural science that the vultures are all females and that
they know to procreate without the coöperation of a male, a memory
emerged in him which became transformed into that phantasy, but which
meant to say that he also had been such a vulture child, which had a
mother but no father. An echo of pleasure which he experienced at his
mother's breast was added to this in the manner as so old impressions
alone can manifest themselves. The allusion to the idea of the holy
virgin with the child, formed by the authors, which is so dear to every
artist, must have contributed to it to make this phantasy seem to him
valuable and important. For this helped him to identify himself with the
Christ child, the comforter and savior of not alone this one woman.

When we break up an infantile phantasy we strive to separate the real
memory content from the later motives which modify and distort the same.
In the case of Leonardo we now think that we know the real content of
the phantasy. The replacement of the mother by the vulture indicates
that the child missed the father and felt himself alone with his mother.
The fact of Leonardo's illegitimate birth fits in with his vulture
phantasy; only on account of it was he able to compare himself with a
vulture child. But we have discovered as the next definite fact from his
youth that at the age of five years he had already been received in his
father's home; when this took place, whether a few months following his
birth, or a few weeks before the taking of the assessment of taxes, is
entirely unknown to us. The interpretation of the vulture phantasy then
steps in and wants to tell us that Leonardo did not spend the first
decisive years of his life with his father and his step-mother but with
his poor, forsaken, real mother, so that he had time to miss his father.
This still seems to be a rather meager and rather daring result of the
psychoanalytic effort, but on further reflection it will gain in
significance. Certainty will be promoted by mentioning the actual
relations in Leonardo's childhood. According to the reports, his father
Ser Piero da Vinci married the prominent Donna Albiera during the year
of Leonardo's birth; it was to the childlessness of this marriage that
the boy owed his legalized reception into his father's or rather
grandfather's house during his fifth year. However, it is not customary
to offer an illegitimate offspring to a young woman's care at the
beginning of marriage when she is still expecting to be blessed with
children. Years of disappointment must have elapsed before it was
decided to adopt the probably handsomely developed illegitimate child as
a compensation for legitimate children who were vainly hoped for. It
harmonizes best with the interpretation of the vulture-phantasy, if at
least three years or perhaps five years of Leonardo's life had elapsed
before he changed from his lonely mother to his father's home. But then
it had already become too late. In the first three or four years of life
impressions are fixed and modes of reactions are formed towards the
outer world which can never be robbed of their importance by any later

If it is true that the incomprehensible childhood reminiscences and the
person's phantasies based on them always bring out the most significant
of his psychic development, then the fact corroborated by the vulture
phantasy, that Leonardo passed the first years of his life alone with
his mother must have been a most decisive influence on the formation of
his inner life. Under the effect of this constellation it could not have
been otherwise than that the child which in his young life encountered
one problem more than other children, should have begun to ponder very
passionately over this riddle and thus should have become an
investigator early in life. For he was tortured by the great questions
where do children come from and what has the father to do with their
origin. The vague knowledge of this connection between his investigation
and his childhood history has later drawn from him the exclamation that
it was destined that he should deeply occupy himself with the problem of
the bird's flight, for already in his cradle he had been visited by a
vulture. To trace the curiosity which is directed to the flight of the
bird to the infantile sexual investigation will be a later task which
will not be difficult to accomplish.


The element of the vulture represents to us the real memory content in
Leonardo's childhood phantasy; the association into which Leonardo
himself placed his phantasy threw a bright light on the importance of
this content for his later life. In continuing the work of
interpretation we now encounter the strange problem why this memory
content was elaborated into a homosexual situation. The mother who
nursed the child, or rather from whom the child suckled was transformed
into a vulture which stuck its tail into the child's mouth. We maintain
that the "coda" (tail) of the vulture, following the common substituting
usages of language, cannot signify anything else but a male genital or
penis. But we do not understand how the phantastic activity came to
furnish precisely this maternal bird with the mark of masculinity, and
in view of this absurdity we become confused at the possibility of
reducing this phantastic structure to rational sense.

However, we must not despair. How many seemingly absurd dreams have we
not forced to give up their sense! Why should it become more difficult
to accomplish this in a childhood phantasy than in a dream!

Let us remember the fact that it is not good to find one isolated
peculiarity, and let us hasten to add another to it which is still more

The vulture-headed goddess _Mut_ of the Egyptians, a figure of
altogether impersonal character, as expressed by Drexel in Roscher's
lexicon, was often fused with other maternal deities of living
individuality like Isis and Hathor, but she retained besides her
separate existence and reverence. It was especially characteristic of
the Egyptian pantheon that the individual gods did not perish in this
amalgamation. Besides the composition of deities the simple divine image
remained in her independence. In most representations the vulture-headed
maternal deity was formed by the Egyptians in a phallic manner,[35] her
body which was distinguished as feminine by its breasts also bore the
masculine member in a state of erection.

The goddess Mut thus evinced the same union of maternal and paternal
characteristics as in Leonardo's vulture phantasy. Should we explain
this concurrence by the assumption that Leonardo knew from studying his
book the androgynous nature of the maternal vulture? Such possibility is
more than questionable; it seems that the sources accessible to him
contained nothing of remarkable determination. It is more likely that
here as there the agreement is to be traced to a common, effective and
unknown motive.

Mythology can teach us that the androgynous formation, the union of
masculine and feminine sex characteristics, did not belong to the
goddess Mut alone but also to other deities such as Isis and Hathor, but
in the latter perhaps only insofar as they possessed also a motherly
nature and became fused with the goddess Mut.[36] It teaches us further
that other Egyptian deities such as Neith of Sais out of whom the Greek
Athene was later formed, were originally conceived as androgynous or
dihermaphroditic, and that the same held true for many of the Greek
gods, especially of the Dionysian circle, as well as for Aphrodite who
was later restricted to a feminine love deity. Mythology may also offer
the explanation that the phallus which was added to the feminine body
was meant to denote the creative primitive force of nature, and that all
these hermaphroditic deistic formations express the idea that only a
union of the masculine and feminine elements can result in a worthy
representation of divine perfection. But none of these observations
explain the psychological riddle, namely, that the phantasy of men takes
no offense at the fact that a figure which was to embody the essence of
the mother should be provided with the mark of the masculine power which
is the opposite of motherhood.

The explanation comes from the infantile sexual theories. There really
was a time in which the male genital was found to be compatible with
the representation of the mother. When the male child first directs his
curiosity to the riddle of the sexual life, he is dominated by the
interest for his own genitals. He finds this part of the body too
valuable and too important to believe that it would be missing in other
persons to whom he feels such a resemblance. As he cannot divine that
there is still another equally valuable type of genital formation he
must grasp the assumption that all persons, also women, possess such a
member as he. This preconception is so firm in the youthful investigator
that it is not destroyed even by the first observation of the genitals
in little girls. His perception naturally tells him that there is
something different here than in him, but he is unable to admit to
himself as the content of this perception that he cannot find this
member in girls. That this member may be missing is to him a dismal and
unbearable thought, and he therefore seeks to reconcile it by deciding
that it also exists in girls but it is still very small and that it will
grow later.[37] If this expectation does not appear to be fulfilled on
later observation he has at his disposal another way of escape. The
member also existed in the little girl but it was cut off and on its
place there remained a wound. This progress of the theory already makes
use of his own painful experience; he was threatened in the meantime
that this important organ will be taken away from him if it will form
too much of an interest for his occupation. Under the influence of this
threat of castration he now interprets his conception of the female
genital, henceforth he will tremble for his masculinity, but at the same
time he will look with contempt upon those unhappy creatures upon whom,
in his opinion, this cruel punishment had already been visited.

Before the child came under the domination of the castration complex, at
the time when he still held the woman at her full value, he began to
manifest an intensive desire to look as an erotic activity of his
impulse. He wished to see the genitals of other persons, originally
probably because he wished to compare them with his own. The erotic
attraction which emanated from the person of his mother soon reached
its height in the longing to see her genital which he believed to be a
penis. With the cognition acquired only later that the woman has no
penis, this longing often becomes transformed into its opposite and
gives place to disgust, which in the years of puberty may become the
cause of psychic impotence, of misogyny and of lasting homosexuality.
But the fixation on the once so vividly desired object, the penis of the
woman, leaves ineradicable traces in the psychic life of the child,
which has gone through that fragment of infantile sexual investigation
with particular thoroughness. The fetich-like reverence for the feminine
foot and shoe seems to take the foot only as a substitutive symbol for
the once revered and since then missed member of the woman. The
"braid-slashers" without knowing it play the part of persons who perform
the act of castration on the female genital.

One will not gain any correct understanding of the activities of the
infantile sexuality and probably will consider these communications
unworthy of belief, as long as one does not relinquish the attitude of
our cultural depreciation of the genitals and of the sexual functions in
general. To understand the infantile psychic life one has to look to
analogies from primitive times. For a long series of generations we have
been in the habit of considering the genitals or _pudenda_ as objects of
shame, and in the case of more successful sexual repression as objects
of disgust. The majority of those living to-day only reluctantly obey
the laws of propagation, feeling thereby that their human dignity is
being offended and degraded. What exists among us of the other
conception of the sexual life is found only in the uncultivated and in
the lower social strata; among the higher and more refined types it is
concealed as culturally inferior, and its activity is ventured only
under the embittered admonition of a guilty conscience. It was quite
different in the primitive times of the human race. From the laborious
collections of students of civilization one gains the conviction that
the genitals were originally the pride and hope of living beings, they
enjoyed divine worship, and the divine nature of their functions was
transported to all newly acquired activities of mankind. Through
sublimation of its essential elements there arose innumerable
god-figures, and at the time when the relation of official religions
with sexual activity was already hidden from the general consciousness,
secret cults labored to preserve it alive among a number of the
initiated. In the course of cultural development it finally happened
that so much godliness and holiness had been extracted from sexuality
that the exhausted remnant fell into contempt. But considering the
indestructibility which is in the nature of all psychic impressions one
need not wonder that even the most primitive forms of genital worship
could be demonstrated until quite recent times, and that language,
customs and superstitions of present day humanity contain the remnants
of all phases of this course of development.[38]

Important biological analogies have taught us that the psychic
development of the individual is a short repetition of the course of
development of the race, and we shall therefore not find improbable what
the psychoanalytic investigation of the child's psyche asserts
concerning the infantile estimation of the genitals. The infantile
assumption of the maternal penis is thus the common source of origin for
the androgynous formation of the maternal deities like the Egyptian
goddess Mut and the vulture's "coda" (tail) in Leonardo's childhood
phantasy. As a matter of fact, it is only through misunderstanding that
these deistic representations are designated hermaphroditic in the
medical sense of the word. In none of them is there a union of the true
genitals of both sexes as they are united in some deformed beings to the
disgust of every human eye; but besides the breast as a mark of
motherhood there is also the male member, just as it existed in the
first imagination of the child about his mother's body. Mythology has
retained for the faithful this revered and very early fancied bodily
formation of the mother. The prominence given to the vulture-tail in
Leonardo's phantasy we can now translate as follows: At that time when I
directed my tender curiosity to my mother I still adjudged to her a
genital like my own. A further testimonial of Leonardo's precocious
sexual investigation, which in our opinion became decisive for his
entire life.

A brief reflection now admonishes us that we should not be satisfied
with the explanation of the vulture-tail in Leonardo's childhood
phantasy. It seems as if it contained more than we as yet understand.
For its more striking feature really consisted in the fact that the
nursing at the mother's breast was transformed into being nursed, that
is into a passive act which thus gives the situation an undoubted
homosexual character. Mindful of the historical probability that
Leonardo behaved in life as a homosexual in feeling, the question
obtrudes itself whether this phantasy does not point to a causal
connection between Leonardo's childhood relations to his mother and the
later manifest, if only ideal, homosexuality. We would not venture to
draw such conclusion from Leonardo's disfigured reminiscence were it not
for the fact that we know from our psychoanalytic investigation of
homosexual patients that such a relation exists, indeed it really is an
intimate and necessary relation.

Homosexual men who have started in our times an energetic action against
the legal limitations of their sexual activity are fond of representing
themselves through theoretical spokesmen as evincing a sexual variation,
which may be distinguished from the very beginning, as an intermediate
stage of sex or as "a third sex." In other words, they maintain that
they are men who are forced by organic determinants originating in the
germ to find that pleasure in the man which they cannot feel in the
woman. As much as one would wish to subscribe to their demands out of
humane considerations, one must nevertheless exercise reserve regarding
their theories which were formulated without regard for the psychic
genesis of homosexuality. Psychoanalysis offers the means to fill this
gap and to put to test the assertions of the homosexuals. It is true
that psychoanalysis fulfilled this task in only a small number of
people, but all investigation thus far undertaken brought the same
surprising results.[39] In all our male homosexuals there was a very
intensive erotic attachment to a feminine person, as a rule to the
mother, which was manifest in the very first period of childhood and
later entirely forgotten by the individual. This attachment was produced
or favored by too much love from the mother herself, but was also
furthered by the retirement or absence of the father during the
childhood period. Sadger emphasizes the fact that the mothers of his
homosexual patients were often man-women, or women with energetic traits
of character who were able to crowd out the father from the place
allotted to him in the family. I have sometimes observed the same thing,
but I was more impressed by those cases in which the father was absent
from the beginning or disappeared early so that the boy was altogether
under feminine influence. It almost seems that the presence of a strong
father would assure for the son the proper decision in the selection of
his object from the opposite sex.

Following this primary stage, a transformation takes place whose
mechanisms we know but whose motive forces we have not yet grasped. The
love of the mother cannot continue to develop consciously so that it
merges into repression. The boy represses the love for the mother by
putting himself in her place, by identifying himself with her, and by
taking his own person as a model through the similarity of which he is
guided in the selection of his love object. He thus becomes homosexual;
as a matter of fact he returns to the stage of autoerotism, for the boys
whom the growing adult now loves are only substitutive persons or
revivals of his own childish person, whom he loves in the same way as
his mother loved him. We say that he finds his love object on the road
to narcism, for the Greek legend called a boy Narcissus to whom nothing
was more pleasing than his own mirrored image, and who became
transformed into a beautiful flower of this name.

Deeper psychological discussions justify the assertion that the person
who becomes homosexual in this manner remains fixed in his unconscious
on the memory picture or his mother, By repressing the love for his
mother he conserves the same in his unconscious and henceforth remains
faithful to her. When as a lover he seems to pursue boys, he really thus
runs away from women who could cause him to become faithless to his
mother. Through direct observation of individual cases we could
demonstrate that he who is seemingly receptive only of masculine stimuli
is in reality influenced by the charms emanating from women just like a
normal person, but each and every time he hastens to transfer the
stimulus he received from the woman to a male object and in this manner
he repeats again and again the mechanism through which he acquired his

It is far from us to exaggerate the importance of these explanations
concerning the psychic genesis of homosexuality. It is quite clear that
they are in crass opposition to the official theories of the homosexual
spokesmen, but we are aware that these explanations are not sufficiently
comprehensive to render possible a final explanation of the problem.
What one calls homosexual for practical purposes may have its origin in
a variety of psychosexual inhibiting processes, and the process
recognized by us is perhaps only one among many, and has reference only
to one type of "homosexuality." We must also admit, that the number of
cases in our homosexual type which shows the conditions required by us,
exceeds by far those cases in which the resulting effect really appears,
so that even we cannot reject the supposed coöperation of unknown
constitutional factors from which one was otherwise wont to deduce the
whole of homosexuality. As a matter of fact there would be no occasion
for entering into the psychic genesis of the form of homosexuality
studied by us if there were not a strong presumption that Leonardo, from
whose vulture-phantasy we started, really belonged to this one type of

As little as is known concerning the sexual behavior of the great artist
and investigator, we must still trust to the probability that the
testimonies of his contemporaries did not go far astray. In the light of
this tradition he appears to us as a man whose sexual need and activity
were extraordinarily low, as if a higher striving had raised him above
the common animal need of mankind. It may be open to doubt whether he
ever sought direct sexual gratification, and in what manner, or whether
he could dispense with it altogether. We are justified, however, to look
also in him for those emotional streams which imperatively force others
to the sexual act, for we cannot imagine a human psychic life in whose
development the sexual desire in the broadest sense, the libido, has not
had its share, whether the latter has withdrawn itself far from the
original aim or whether it was detained from being put into execution.

Anything but traces of unchanged sexual desire we need not expect in
Leonardo. These point however to one direction and allow us to count him
among homosexuals. It has always been emphasized that he took as his
pupils only strikingly handsome boys and youths. He was kind and
considerate towards them, he cared for them and nursed them himself when
they were ill, just like a mother nurses her children, as his own mother
might have cared for him. As he selected them on account of their
beauty rather than their talent, none of them--Cesare da Sesto, G.
Boltraffio, Andrea Salaino, Francesco Melzi and the others--ever became
a prominent artist. Most of them could not make themselves independent
of their master and disappeared after his death without leaving a more
definite physiognomy to the history of art. The others who by their
productions earned the right to call themselves his pupils, as Luini and
Bazzi, nicknamed Sodoma, he probably did not know personally.

We realize that we will have to face the objection that Leonardo's
behavior towards his pupils surely had nothing to do with sexual
motives, and permits no conclusion as to his sexual peculiarity. Against
this we wish to assert with all caution that our conception explains
some strange features in the master's behavior which otherwise would
have remained enigmatical. Leonardo kept a diary; he made entries in his
small hand, written from right to left which were meant only for
himself. It is to be noted that in this diary he addressed himself with
"thou": "Learn from master Lucca the multiplication of roots."[40] "Let
master d'Abacco show thee the square of the circle."[41] Or on the
occasion of a journey he entered in his diary:

"I am going to Milan to look after the affairs of my garden ... order
two pack-sacks to be made. Ask Boltraffio to show thee his turning-lathe
and let him polish a stone on it.--Leave the book to master Andrea il
Todesco."[42] Or he wrote a resolution of quite different significance:
"Thou must show in thy treatise that the earth is a star, like the moon
or resembling it, and thus prove the nobility of our world."[43]

In this diary, which like the diaries of other mortals often skim over
the most important events of the day with only few words or ignore them
altogether, one finds a few entries which on account of their
peculiarity are cited by all of Leonardo's biographers. They show
notations referring to the master's petty expenses, which are recorded
with painful exactitude as if coming from a pedantic and strictly
parsimonious family father, while there is nothing to show that he spent
greater sums, or that the artist was well versed in household
management. One of these notes refers to a new cloak which he bought for
his pupil Andrea Salaino:[44]

    Silver brocade              Lira 15 Soldi 4
    Crimson velvet for trimming   "   9  "    0
    Braid                         "   0  "    9
    Buttons                       "   0  "   12

Another very detailed notice gives all the expenses which he incurred
through the bad qualities and the thieving tendencies of another pupil
or model: "On 21st day of April, 1490, I started this book and started
again the horse.[45] Jacomo came to me on Magdalene day, 1490, at the
age of ten years (marginal note: thievish, mendacious, willful,
gluttonous). On the second day I ordered for him two shirts, a pair of
pants, and a jacket, and as I put the money away to pay for the things
named he stole the money from my purse, and it was never possible to
make him confess, although I was absolutely sure of it (marginal note: 4
Lira ...)." So the report continues concerning the misdeeds of the
little boy and concludes with the expense account: "In the first year, a
cloak, Lira 2: 6 shirts, Lira 4: 3 jackets, Lira 6: 4 pair of socks,
Lira 7, etc."[46]

Leonardo's biographers, to whom nothing was further than to solve the
riddle in the psychic life of their hero from these slight weaknesses
and peculiarities, were wont to remark in connection with these peculiar
accounts that they emphasized the kindness and consideration of the
master for his pupils. They forget thereby that it is not Leonardo's
behavior that needs an explanation, but the fact that he left us these
testimonies of it. As it is impossible to ascribe to him the motive of
smuggling into our hands proofs of his kindness, we must assume that
another affective motive caused him to write this down. It is not easy
to conjecture what this motive was, and we could not give any if not
for another account found among Leonardo's papers which throws a
brilliant light on these peculiarly petty notices about his pupils'
clothes, and others of a kind:[47]

    Burial expenses following the death of Caterina    27 florins
      2 pounds wax                                     18  "
      Cataphalc                                        12  "
      For the transportation and erection of the cross  4  "
      Pall bearers                                      8  "
      To 4 priests and 4 clerics                       20  "
      Ringing of bells                                  2  "
      To grave diggers                                 16  "
      For the approval--to the officials                1  "
                 To sum up                            108 florins

    Previous expenses:
      To the doctor           4 florins
      For sugar and candles  12   "
                                                       16 florins
                    Sum total                         124 florins

The writer Merejkowski is the only one who can tell us who this Caterina
was. From two different short notices he concludes that she was the
mother of Leonardo, the poor peasant woman from Vinci, who came to Milan
in 1493 to visit her son then 41 years old. While on this visit she fell
ill and was taken to the hospital by Leonardo, and following her death
she was buried by her son with such sumptuous funeral.[48]

This deduction of the psychological writer of romances is not capable of
proof, but it can lay claim to so many inner probabilities, it agrees so
well with everything we know besides about Leonardo's emotional activity
that I cannot refrain from accepting it as correct. Leonardo succeeded
in forcing his feelings under the yoke of investigation and in
inhibiting their free utterance, but even in him there were episodes in
which the suppression obtained expression, and one of these was the
death of his mother whom he once loved so ardently. Through this account
of the burial expenses he represents to us the mourning of his mother in
an almost unrecognizable distortion. We wonder how such a distortion
could have come about, and we certainly cannot grasp it when viewed
under normal mental processes. But similar mechanisms are familiar to us
under the abnormal conditions of neuroses, and especially in the
so-called _compulsion neurosis_. Here one can observe how the
expressions of more intensive feelings have been displaced to trivial
and even foolish performances. The opposing forces succeeded in debasing
the expression of these repressed feelings to such an extent that one is
forced to estimate the intensity of these feelings as extremely
unimportant, but the imperative compulsion with which these
insignificant acts express themselves betrays the real force of the
feelings which are rooted in the unconscious, which consciousness would
wish to disavow. Only by bearing in mind the mechanisms of compulsion
neurosis can one explain Leonardo's account of the funeral expenses of
his mother. In his unconscious he was still tied to her as in childhood,
by erotically tinged feelings; the opposition of the repression of this
childhood love which appeared later stood in the way of erecting to her
in his diary a different and more dignified monument, but what resulted
as a compromise of this neurotic conflict had to be put in operation and
hence the account was entered in the diary which thus came to the
knowledge of posterity as something incomprehensible.

It is not venturing far to transfer the interpretation obtained from the
funeral expenses to the accounts dealing with his pupils. Accordingly we
would say that here also we deal with a case in which Leonardo's meager
remnants of libidinous feelings compulsively obtained a distorted
expression. The mother and the pupils, the very images of his own boyish
beauty, would be his sexual objects--as far as his sexual repression
dominating his nature would allow such manifestations--and the
compulsion to note with painful circumstantiality his expenses on their
behalf, would designate the strange betrayal of his rudimentary
conflicts. From this we would conclude that Leonardo's love-life really
belonged to that type of homosexuality, the psychic development of which
we were able to disclose, and the appearance of the homosexual situation
in his vulture-phantasy would become comprehensible to us, for it states
nothing more or less than what we have asserted before concerning that
type. It requires the following interpretation: Through the erotic
relations to my mother I became a homosexual.[49]


The vulture phantasy of Leonardo still absorbs our interest. In words
which only too plainly recall a sexual act ("and has many times struck
against my lips with his tail"), Leonardo emphasizes the intensity of
the erotic relations between the mother and the child. A second memory
content of the phantasy can readily be conjectured from the association
of the activity of the mother (of the vulture) with the accentuation of
the mouth zone. We can translate it as follows: My mother has pressed on
my mouth innumerable passionate kisses. The phantasy is composed of the
memories of being nursed and of being kissed by the mother.

[Illustration: MONA LISA]

A kindly nature has bestowed upon the artist the capacity to express in
artistic productions his most secret psychic feelings hidden even to
himself, which powerfully affect outsiders who are strangers to the
artist without their being able to state whence this emotivity comes.
Should there be no evidence in Leonardo's work of that which his memory
retained as the strongest impression of his childhood? One would have to
expect it. However, when one considers what profound transformations an
impression of an artist has to experience before it can add its
contribution to the work of art, one is obliged to moderate considerably
his expectation of demonstrating something definite. This is especially
true in the case of Leonardo.

He who thinks of Leonardo's paintings will be reminded by the remarkably
fascinating and puzzling smile which he enchanted on the lips of all his
feminine figures. It is a fixed smile on elongated, sinuous lips which
is considered characteristic of him and is preferentially designated as
"Leonardesque." In the singular and beautiful visage of the Florentine
Monna Lisa del Giocondo it has produced the greatest effect on the
spectators and even perplexed them. This smile was in need of an
interpretation, and received many of the most varied kind but none of
them was considered satisfactory. As Gruyer puts it: "It is almost four
centuries since Monna Lisa causes all those to lose their heads who have
looked upon her for some time."[50]

Muther states:[51] "What fascinates the spectator is the demoniacal
charm of this smile. Hundreds of poets and writers have written about
this woman, who now seems to smile upon us seductively and now to stare
coldly and lifelessly into space, but nobody has solved the riddle of
her smile, nobody has interpreted her thoughts. Everything, even the
scenery is mysterious and dream-like, trembling as if in the sultriness
of sensuality."

The idea that two diverse elements were united in the smile of Monna
Lisa has been felt by many critics. They therefore recognize in the play
of features of the beautiful Florentine lady the most perfect
representation of the contrasts dominating the love-life of the woman
which is foreign to man, as that of reserve and seduction, and of most
devoted tenderness and inconsiderateness in urgent and consuming
sensuality. Müntz[52] expresses himself in this manner: "One knows what
indecipherable and fascinating enigma Monna Lisa Gioconda has been
putting for nearly four centuries to the admirers who crowd around her.
No artist (I borrow the expression of the delicate writer who hides
himself under the pseudonym of Pierre de Corlay) has ever translated in
this manner the very essence of femininity: the tenderness and coquetry,
the modesty and quiet voluptuousness, the whole mystery of the heart
which holds itself aloof, of a brain which reflects, and of a
personality who watches itself and yields nothing from herself except
radiance...." The Italian Angelo Conti[53] saw the picture in the Louvre
illumined by a ray of the sun and expressed himself as follows: "The
woman smiled with a royal calmness, her instincts of conquest, of
ferocity, the entire heredity of the species, the will of seduction and
ensnaring, the charm of the deceiver, the kindness which conceals a
cruel purpose, all that appears and disappears alternately behind the
laughing veil and melts into the poem of her smile.... Good and evil,
cruelty and compassion, graceful and cat-like, she laughed...."

Leonardo painted this picture four years, perhaps from 1503 until 1507,
during his second sojourn in Florence when he was about the age of fifty
years. According to Vasari he applied the choicest artifices in order to
divert the lady during the sittings and to hold that smile firmly on her
features. Of all the gracefulness that his brush reproduced on the
canvas at that time the picture preserves but very little in its present
state. During its production it was considered the highest that art
could accomplish; it is certain, however, that it did not satisfy
Leonardo himself, that he pronounced it as unfinished and did not
deliver it to the one who ordered it, but took it with him to France
where his benefactor Francis I, acquired it for the Louvre.

Let us leave the physiognomic riddle of Monna Lisa unsolved, and let us
note the unequivocal fact that her smile fascinated the artist no less
than all the spectators for these 400 years. This captivating smile had
thereafter returned in all of his pictures and in those of his pupils.
As Leonardo's Monna Lisa was a portrait we cannot assume that he has
added to her face a trait of his own so difficult to express which she
herself did not possess. It seems, we cannot help but believe, that he
found this smile in his model and became so charmed by it that from now
on he endowed it on all the free creations of his phantasy. This obvious
conception is, e.g., expressed by A. Konstantinowa in the following

"During the long period in which the master occupied himself with the
portrait of Monna Lisa del Gioconda, he entered into the physiognomic
delicacies of this feminine face with such sympathy of feeling that he
transferred these creatures, especially the mysterious smile and the
peculiar glance, to all faces which he later painted or drew. The mimic
peculiarity of Gioconda can even be perceived in the picture of John the
Baptist in the Louvre. But above all they are distinctly recognized in
the features of Mary in the picture of St. Anne of the Louvre."

But the case could have been different. The need for a deeper reason for
the fascination which the smile of Gioconda exerted on the artist from
which he could not rid himself has been felt by more than one of his
biographers. W. Pater, who sees in the picture of Monna Lisa the
embodiment of the entire erotic experience of modern man, and discourses
so excellently on "that unfathomable smile always with a touch of
something sinister in it, which plays over all Leonardo's work," leads
us to another track when he says:[55]

"Besides, the picture is a portrait. From childhood we see this image
defining itself on the fabric of his dream; and but for express
historical testimony, we might fancy that this was but his ideal lady,
embodied and beheld at last."

Herzfeld surely must have had something similar in mind when stating
that in Monna Lisa Leonardo encountered himself and therefore found it
possible to put so much of his own nature into the picture, "whose
features from time immemorial have been imbedded with mysterious
sympathy in Leonardo's soul."[56]

Let us endeavor to clear up these intimations. It was quite possible
that Leonardo was fascinated by the smile of Monna Lisa, because it had
awakened something in him which had slumbered in his soul for a long
time, in all probability an old memory. This memory was of sufficient
importance to stick to him once it had been aroused; he was forced
continually to provide it with new expression. The assurance of Pater
that we can see an image like that of Monna Lisa defining itself from
Leonardo's childhood on the fabric of his dreams, seems worthy of belief
and deserves to be taken literally.

Vasari mentions as Leonardo's first artistic endeavors, "heads of women
who laugh."[57] The passage, which is beyond suspicion, as it is not
meant to prove anything, reads more precisely as follows:[58] "He formed
in his youth some laughing feminine heads out of lime, which have been
reproduced in plaster, and some heads of children, which were as
beautiful as if modeled by the hands of a master...."

Thus we discover that his practice of art began with the representation
of two kinds of objects, which would perforce remind us of the two kinds
of sexual objects which we have inferred from the analysis of his
vulture phantasy. If the beautiful children's heads were reproductions
of his own childish person, then the laughing women were nothing else
but reproductions of Caterina, his mother, and we are beginning to have
an inkling of the possibility that his mother possessed that mysterious
smile which he lost, and which fascinated him so much when he found it
again in the Florentine lady.[59]

[Illustration: SAINT ANNE]

The painting of Leonardo which in point of time stands nearest to the
Monna Lisa is the so-called Saint Anne of the Louvre, representing
Saint Anne, Mary and the Christ child. It shows the Leonardesque smile
most beautifully portrayed in the two feminine heads. It is impossible
to find out how much earlier or later than the portrait of Monna Lisa
Leonardo began to paint this picture. As both works extended over years,
we may well assume that they occupied the master simultaneously. But it
would best harmonize with our expectation if precisely the absorption in
the features of Monna Lisa would have instigated Leonardo to form the
composition of Saint Anne from his phantasy. For if the smile of
Gioconda had conjured up in him the memory of his mother, we would
naturally understand that he was first urged to produce a glorification
of motherhood, and to give back to her the smile he found in that
prominent lady. We may thus allow our interest to glide over from the
portrait of Monna Lisa to this other hardly less beautiful picture, now
also in the Louvre.

Saint Anne with the daughter and grandchild is a subject seldom treated
in the Italian art of painting; at all events Leonardo's representation
differs widely from all that is otherwise known. Muther states:[60]

"Some masters like Hans Fries, the older Holbein, and Girolamo dei
Libri, made Anne sit near Mary and placed the child between the two.
Others like Jakob Cornelicz in his Berlin pictures, represented Saint
Anne as holding in her arm the small figure of Mary upon which sits the
still smaller figure of the Christ child." In Leonardo's picture Mary
sits on her mother's lap, bent forward and is stretching out both arms
after the boy who plays with a little lamb, and must have slightly
maltreated it. The grandmother has one of her unconcealed arms propped
on her hip and looks down on both with a blissful smile. The grouping is
certainly not quite unconstrained. But the smile which is playing on the
lips of both women, although unmistakably the same as in the picture of
Monna Lisa, has lost its sinister and mysterious character; it expresses
a calm blissfulness.[61]

On becoming somewhat engrossed in this picture it suddenly dawns upon
the spectator that only Leonardo could have painted this picture, as
only he could have formed the vulture phantasy. This picture contains
the synthesis of the history of Leonardo's childhood, the details of
which are explainable by the most intimate impressions of his life. In
his father's home he found not only the kind step-mother Donna Albiera,
but also the grandmother, his father's mother, Monna Lucia, who we will
assume was not less tender to him than grandmothers are wont to be. This
circumstance must have furnished him with the facts for the
representation of a childhood guarded by a mother and grandmother.
Another striking feature of the picture assumes still greater
significance. Saint Anne, the mother of Mary and the grandmother of the
boy who must have been a matron, is formed here perhaps somewhat more
mature and more serious than Saint Mary, but still as a young woman of
unfaded beauty. As a matter of fact Leonardo gave the boy two mothers,
the one who stretched out her arms after him and another who is seen in
the background, both are represented with the blissful smile of maternal
happiness. This peculiarity of the picture has not failed to excite the
wonder of the authors. Muther, for instance, believes that Leonardo
could not bring himself to paint old age, folds and wrinkles, and
therefore formed also Anne as a woman of radiant beauty. Whether one can
be satisfied with this explanation is a question. Other writers have
taken occasion to deny generally the sameness of age of mother and
daughter.[62] However, Muther's tentative explanation is sufficient
proof for the fact that the impression of Saint Anne's youthful
appearance was furnished by the picture and is not an imagination
produced by a tendency.

Leonardo's childhood was precisely as remarkable as this picture. He has
had two mothers, the first his true mother, Caterina, from whom he was
torn away between the age of three and five years, and a young tender
step-mother, Donna Albiera, his father's wife. By connecting this fact
of his childhood with the one mentioned above and condensing them into a
uniform fusion, the composition of Saint Anne, Mary and the Child,
formed itself in him. The maternal form further away from the boy
designated as grandmother, corresponds in appearance and in spatial
relation to the boy, with the real first mother, Caterina. With the
blissful smile of Saint Anne the artist actually disavowed and concealed
the envy which the unfortunate mother felt when she was forced to give
up her son to her more aristocratic rival, as once before her lover.

Our feeling that the smile of Monna Lisa del Gioconda awakened in the
man the memory of the mother of his first years of childhood would thus
be confirmed from another work of Leonardo. Following the production of
Monna Lisa, Italian artists depicted in Madonnas and prominent ladies
the humble dipping of the head and the peculiar blissful smile of the
poor peasant girl Caterina, who brought to the world the noble son who
was destined to paint, investigate, and suffer.

When Leonardo succeeded in reproducing in the face of Monna Lisa the
double sense comprised in this smile, namely, the promise of unlimited
tenderness, and sinister threat (in the words of Pater), he remained
true even in this to the content of his earliest reminiscence. For the
love of the mother became his destiny, it determined his fate and the
privations which were in store for him. The impetuosity of the caressing
to which the vulture phantasy points was only too natural. The poor
forsaken mother had to give vent through mother's love to all her
memories of love enjoyed as well as to all her yearnings for more
affection; she was forced to it, not only in order to compensate herself
for not having a husband, but also the child for not having a father who
wanted to love it. In the manner of all ungratified mothers she thus
took her little son in place of her husband, and robbed him of a part of
his virility by the too early maturing of his eroticism. The love of the
mother for the suckling whom she nourishes and cares for is something
far deeper reaching than her later affection for the growing child. It
is of the nature of a fully gratified love affair, which fulfills not
only all the psychic wishes but also all physical needs, and when it
represents one of the forms of happiness attainable by man it is due, in
no little measure, to the possibility of gratifying without reproach
also wish feelings which were long repressed and designated as
perverse.[63] Even in the happiest recent marriage the father feels that
his child, especially the little boy has become his rival, and this
gives origin to an antagonism against the favorite one which is deeply
rooted in the unconscious.

When in the prime of his life Leonardo re-encountered that blissful and
ecstatic smile as it had once encircled his mother's mouth in caressing,
he had long been under the ban of an inhibition, forbidding him ever
again to desire such tenderness from women's lips. But as he had become
a painter he endeavored to reproduce this smile with his brush and
furnish all his pictures with it, whether he executed them himself or
whether they were done by his pupils under his direction, as in Leda,
John, and Bacchus. The latter two are variations of the same type.
Muther says: "From the locust eater of the Bible Leonardo made a
Bacchus, an Apollo, who with a mysterious smile on his lips, and with
his soft thighs crossed, looks on us with infatuated eyes." These
pictures breathe a mysticism into the secret of which one dares not
penetrate; at most one can make the effort to construct the connection
to Leonardo's earlier productions. The figures are again androgynous but
no longer in the sense of the vulture phantasy, they are pretty boys of
feminine tenderness with feminine forms; they do not cast down their
eyes but gaze mysteriously triumphant, as if they knew of a great happy
issue concerning which one must remain quiet; the familiar fascinating
smile leads us to infer that it is a love secret. It is possible that in
these forms Leonardo disavowed and artistically conquered the
unhappiness of his love life, in that he represented the wish
fulfillment of the boy infatuated with his mother in such blissful union
of the male and female nature.

[Illustration: JOHN THE BAPTIST]


Among the entries in Leonardo's diaries there is one which absorbs the
reader's attention through its important content and on account of a
small formal error. In July, 1504, he wrote:

"Adi 9 Luglio, 1504, mercoledi, a ore 7 mori Ser Piero da Vinci notalio
al palazzo del Potestà, mio padre, a ore 7. Era d'età d'anni 80, lasciò
10 figlioli maschi e 2 feminine."[64]

The notice as we see deals with the death of Leonardo's father. The
slight error in its form consists in the fact that in the computation of
the time "at 7 o'clock" is repeated two times, as if Leonardo had
forgotten at the end of the sentence that he had already written it at
the beginning. It is only a triviality to which any one but a
psychoanalyst would pay no attention. Perhaps he would not even notice
it, or if his attention would be called to it he would say "that can
happen to anybody during absent-mindedness or in an affective state and
has no further meaning."

The psychoanalyst thinks differently; to him nothing is too trifling as
a manifestation of hidden psychic processes; he has long learned that
such forgetting or repetition is full of meaning, and that one is
indebted to the "absent-mindedness" when it makes possible the betrayal
of otherwise concealed feelings.

We would say that, like the funeral account of Caterina and the expense
account of the pupils, this notice, too, corresponds to a case in which
Leonardo was unsuccessful in suppressing his affects, and the long
hidden feeling forcibly obtained a distorted expression. Also the form
is similar, it shows the same pedantic precision, the same pushing
forward of numbers.[65]

We call such a repetition a perseveration. It is an excellent means to
indicate the affective accentuation. One recalls for example Saint
Peter's angry speech against his unworthy representative on earth, as
given in Dante's Paradiso:[66]

    "Quegli ch'usurpa in terra il luoga mio
     Il luoga mio, il luogo mio, che vaca
     Nella presenza del Figliuol di Dio,
     Fatto ha del cimiterio mio cloaca."

Without Leonardo's affective inhibition the entry into the diary could
perhaps have read as follows: To-day at 7 o'clock died my father, Ser
Piero da Vinci, my poor father! But the displacement of the
perseveration to the most indifferent determination of the obituary to
dying-hour robs the notice of all pathos and lets us recognize that
there was something here to conceal and to suppress.

Ser Piero da Vinci, notary and descendant of notaries, was a man of
great energy who attained respect and affluence. He was married four
times, the two first wives died childless, and not till the third
marriage has he gotten the first legitimate son, in 1476, when Leonardo
was 24 years old, and had long ago changed his father's home for the
studio of his master Verrocchio. With the fourth and last wife whom he
married when he was already in the fifties he begot nine sons and two

To be sure the father also assumed importance in Leonardo's psychosexual
development, and what is more, it was not only in a negative sense,
through his absence during the boy's first childhood years, but also
directly through his presence in his later childhood. He who as a child
desires his mother, cannot help wishing to put himself in his father's
place, to identify himself with him in his phantasy and later make it
his life's task to triumph over him. As Leonardo was not yet five years
old when he was received into his paternal home, the young step-mother,
Albiera, certainly must have taken the place of his mother in his
feeling, and this brought him into that relation of rivalry to his
father which may be designated as normal. As is known, the preference
for homosexuality did not manifest itself till near the years of
puberty. When Leonardo accepted this preference the identification with
the father lost all significance for his sexual life, but continued in
other spheres of non-erotic activity. We hear that he was fond of luxury
and pretty raiments, and kept servants and horses, although according to
Vasari's words "he hardly possessed anything and worked little." We
shall not hold his artistic taste entirely responsible for all these
special likings; we recognize in them also the compulsion to copy his
father and to excel him. He played the part of the great gentleman to
the poor peasant girl, hence the son retained the incentive that he also
play the great gentleman, he had the strong feeling "to out-herod
Herod," and to show his father exactly how the real high rank looks.

Whoever works as an artist certainly feels as a father to his works. The
identification with his father had a fateful result in Leonardo's works
of art. He created them and then troubled himself no longer about them,
just as his father did not trouble himself about him. The later
worriments of his father could change nothing in this compulsion, as the
latter originated from the impressions of the first years of childhood,
and the repression having remained unconscious was incorrigible through
later experiences.

At the time of the Renaissance, and even much later, every artist was in
need of a gentleman of rank to act as his benefactor. This patron was
wont to give the artist commissions for work and entirely controlled his
destiny. Leonardo found his patron in Lodovico Sforza, nicknamed Il
Moro, a man of high aspirations, ostentations, diplomatically astute,
but of an unstable and unreliable character. In his court in Milan,
Leonardo spent the best period of his life, while in his service he
evinced his most uninhibited productive activity as is evidenced in The
Last Supper, and in the equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza. He left
Milan before the catastrophe struck Lodovico Moro, who died a prisoner
in a French prison. When the news of his benefactor's fate reached
Leonardo he made the following entry in his diary: "The duke has lost
state, wealth, and liberty, not one of his works will be finished by
himself."[68] It is remarkable and surely not without significance that
he here raises the same reproach to his benefactor that posterity was to
apply to him, as if he wanted to lay the responsibility to a person who
substituted his father-series, for the fact that he himself left his
works unfinished. As a matter of fact he was not wrong in what he said
about the Duke.

However, if the imitation of his father hurt him as an artist, his
resistance against the father was the infantile determinant of his
perhaps equally vast accomplishment as an artist. According to
Merejkowski's beautiful comparison he was like a man who awoke too early
in the darkness, while the others were all still asleep. He dared utter
this bold principle which contains the justification for all independent
investigation: _"Chi dispute allegando l'autorità non adopra l'ingegno
ma piuttosto la memoria"_ (Whoever refers to authorities in disputing
ideas, works with his memory rather than with his reason).[69] Thus he
became the first modern natural philosopher, and his courage was
rewarded by an abundance of cognitions and suggestions; since the Greek
period he was the first to investigate the secrets of nature, relying
entirely on his observation and his own judgment. But when he learned to
depreciate authority and to reject the imitation of the "ancients" and
constantly pointed to the study of nature as the source of all wisdom,
he only repeated in the highest sublimation attainable to man, which had
already obtruded itself on the little boy who surveyed the world with
wonder. To retranslate the scientific abstractions into concrete
individual experiences, we would say that the "ancients" and authority
only corresponded to the father, and nature again became the tender
mother who nourished him. While in most human beings to-day, as in
primitive times, the need for a support of some authority is so
imperative that their world becomes shaky when their authority is
menaced, Leonardo alone was able to exist without such support; but that
would not have been possible had he not been deprived of his father in
the first years of his life. The boldness and independence of his later
scientific investigation presupposes that his infantile sexual
investigation was not inhibited by his father, and this same spirit of
scientific independence was continued by his withdrawing from sex.

If any one like Leonardo escapes in his childhood his father's
intimidation and later throws off the shackles of authority in his
scientific investigation, it would be in gross contradiction to our
expectation if we found that this same man remained a believer and
unable to withdraw from dogmatic religion. Psychoanalysis has taught us
the intimate connection between the father complex and belief in God,
and daily demonstrates to us how youthful persons lose their religious
belief as soon as the authority of the father breaks down. In the
parental complex we thus recognize the roots of religious need; the
almighty, just God, and kindly nature appear to us as grand sublimations
of father and mother, or rather as revivals and restorations of the
infantile conceptions of both parents. Religiousness is biologically
traced to the long period of helplessness and need of help of the little
child. When the child grows up and realizes his loneliness and weakness
in the presence of the great forces of life, he perceives his condition
as in childhood and seeks to disavow his despair through a regressive
revival of the protecting forces of childhood.

It does not seem that Leonardo's life disproves this conception of
religious belief. Accusations charging him with irreligiousness, which
in those times was equivalent to renouncing Christianity, were brought
against him already in his lifetime, and were clearly described in the
first biography given by Vasari.[70] In the second edition of his Vite
(1568) Vasari left out this observation. In view of the extraordinary
sensitiveness of his age in matters of religion it is perfectly
comprehensible to us why Leonardo refrained from directly expressing his
position to Christianity in his notes. As investigator he did not permit
himself to be misled by the account of the creation of the holy
scriptures; for instance, he disputed the possibility of a universal
flood, and in geology he was as unscrupulous in calculating with hundred
thousands of years as modern investigators.

Among his "prophecies" one finds some things that would perforce offend
the sensitive feelings of a religious Christian, e.g. Praying to the
images of Saints, reads as follows:[71]

"People talk to people who perceive nothing, who have open eyes and see
nothing; they shall talk to them and receive no answer; they shall adore
those who have ears and hear nothing; they shall burn lamps for those
who do not see."

Or: Concerning mourning on Good Friday (p. 297):

"In all parts of Europe great peoples will bewail the death of one man
who died in the Orient."

It was asserted of Leonardo's art that he took away the last remnant of
religious attachment from the holy figures and put them into human form
in order to depict in them great and beautiful human feelings. Muther
praises him for having overcome the feeling of decadence, and for having
returned to man the right of sensuality and pleasurable enjoyment. The
notices which show Leonardo absorbed in fathoming the great riddles of
nature do not lack any expressions of admiration for the creator, the
last cause of all these wonderful secrets, but nothing indicates that he
wished to hold any personal relation to this divine force. The sentences
which contain the deep wisdom of his last years breathe the resignation
of the man who subjects himself to the laws of nature and expects no
alleviation from the kindness or grace of God. There is hardly any doubt
that Leonardo had vanquished dogmatic as well as personal religion, and
through his work of investigation he had withdrawn far from the world
aspect of the religious Christian.

From our views mentioned before in the development of the infantile
psychic life, it becomes clear that also Leonardo's first investigations
in childhood occupied themselves with the problems of sexuality. But he
himself betrays it to us through a transparent veil, in that he
connects his impulse to investigate with the vulture phantasy, and in
emphasizing the problem of the flight of the bird as one whose
elaboration devolved upon him through special concatenations of fate. A
very obscure as well as a prophetically sounding passage in his notes
dealing with the flight of the bird demonstrates in the nicest way with
how much affective interest he clung to the wish that he himself should
be able to imitate, the art of flying: "The human bird shall take his
first flight, filling the world with amazement, all writings with his
fame, and bringing eternal glory to the nest whence he sprang." He
probably hoped that he himself would sometimes be able to fly, and we
know from the wish fulfilling dreams of people what bliss one expects
from the fulfillment of this hope.

But why do so many people dream that they are able to fly?
Psychoanalysis answers this question by stating that to fly or to be a
bird in the dream is only a concealment of another wish, to the
recognition of which one can reach by more than one linguistic or
objective bridge. When the inquisitive child is told that a big bird
like the stork brings the little children, when the ancients have formed
the phallus winged, when the popular designation of the sexual activity
of man is expressed in German by the word "to bird" (vögeln), when the
male member is directly called _l'uccello_ (bird) by the Italians, all
these facts are only small fragments from a large collection which
teaches us that the wish to be able to fly signifies in the dream
nothing more or less than the longing for the ability of sexual
accomplishment. This is an early infantile wish. When the grown-up
recalls his childhood it appears to him as a happy time in which one is
happy for the moment and looks to the future without any wishes, it is
for this reason that he envies children. But if children themselves
could inform us about it they would probably give different reports. It
seems that childhood is not that blissful Idyl into which we later
distort it, that on the contrary children are lashed through the years
of childhood by the wish to become big, and to imitate the grown ups.
This wish instigates all their playing. If in the course of their
sexual investigation children feel that the grown up knows something
wonderful in the mysterious and yet so important realm, what they are
prohibited from knowing or doing, they are seized with a violent wish to
know it, and dream of it in the form of flying, or prepare this disguise
of the wish for their later flying dreams. Thus aviation, which has
attained its aim in our times, has also its infantile erotic roots.

By admitting that he entertained a special personal relation to the
problem of flying since his childhood, Leonardo bears out what we must
assume from our investigation of children of our times, namely, that his
childhood investigation was directed to sexual matters. At least this
one problem escaped the repression which has later estranged him from
sexuality. From childhood until the age of perfect intellectual maturity
this subject, slightly varied, continued to hold his interest, and it is
quite possible that he was as little successful in his cherished art in
the primary sexual sense as in his desires for mechanical matters, that
both wishes were denied to him.

As a matter of fact the great Leonardo remained infantile in some ways
throughout his whole life; it is said that all great men retain
something of the infantile. As a grown up he still continued playing,
which sometimes made him appear strange and incomprehensible to his
contemporaries. When he constructed the most artistic mechanical toys
for court festivities and receptions we are dissatisfied thereby because
we dislike to see the master waste his power on such petty stuff. He
himself did not seem averse to giving his time to such things. Vasari
reports that he did similar things even when not urged to it by request:
"There (in Rome) he made a doughy mass out of wax, and when it softened
he formed thereof very delicate animals filled with air; when he blew
into them they flew in the air, and when the air was exhausted they fell
to the ground. For a peculiar lizard caught by the wine-grower of
Belvedere Leonardo made wings from skin pulled off from other lizards,
which he filled with mercury so that they moved and trembled when it
walked; he then made for it eyes, a beard and horns, tamed it and put it
in a little box and terrified all his friends with it."[72] Such
playing often served him as an expression of serious thoughts: "He had
often cleaned the intestines of a sheep so well that one could hold them
in the hollow of the hand; he brought them into a big room, and attached
them to a blacksmith's bellows which he kept in an adjacent room, he
then blew them up until they filled up the whole room so that everybody
had to crowd into a corner. In this manner he showed how they gradually
became transparent and filled up with air, and as they were at first
limited to very little space and gradually became more and more extended
in the big room, he compared them to a genius."[73] His fables and
riddles evince the same playful pleasure in harmless concealment and
artistic investment, the riddles were put into the form of prophecies;
almost all are rich in ideas and to a remarkable degree devoid of wit.

The plays and jumps which Leonardo allowed his phantasy have in some
cases quite misled his biographers who misunderstood this part of his
nature. In Leonardo's Milanese manuscripts one finds, for example,
outlines of letters to the "Diodario of Sorio (Syria), viceroy of the
holy Sultan of Babylon," in which Leonardo presents himself as an
engineer sent to these regions of the Orient in order to construct some
works. In these letters he defends himself against the reproach of
laziness, he furnishes geographical descriptions of cities and
mountains, and finally discusses a big elementary event which occurred
while he was there.[74]

In 1881, J. P. Richter had endeavored to prove from these documents that
Leonardo made these traveler's observations when he really was in the
service of the Sultan of Egypt, and that while in the Orient he embraced
the Mohammedan religion. This sojourn in the Orient should have taken
place in the time of 1483, that is, before he removed to the court of
the Duke of Milan. However, it was not difficult for other authors to
recognize the illustrations of this supposed journey to the Orient as
what they really were, namely, phantastic productions of the youthful
artist which he created for his own amusement, and in which he probably
brought to expression his wishes to see the world and experience

A phantastic formation is probably also the "Academia Vinciana," the
acceptance of which is due to the existence of five or six most clever
and intricate emblems with the inscription of the Academy. Vasari
mentions these drawings but not the Academy.[75] Müntz who placed such
ornament on the cover of his big work on Leonardo belongs to the few who
believe in the reality of an "Academia Vinciana."

It is probable that this impulse to play disappeared in Leonardo's
maturer years, that it became discharged in the investigating activity
which signified the highest development of his personality. But the fact
that it continued so long may teach us how slowly one tears himself away
from his infantilism after having enjoyed in his childhood supreme
erotic happiness which is later unattainable.


It would be futile to delude ourselves that at present, readers find
every pathography unsavory. This attitude is excused with the reproach
that from a pathographic elaboration of a great man one never obtains an
understanding of his importance and his attainments, that it is
therefore useless mischief to study in him things which could just as
well be found in the first comer. However, this criticism is so clearly
unjust that it can only be grasped when viewed as a pretext and a
disguise for something. As a matter of fact pathography does not aim at
making comprehensible the attainments of the great man; no one should
really be blamed for not doing something which one never promised. The
real motives for the opposition are quite different. One finds them when
one bears in mind that biographers are fixed on their heroes in quite a
peculiar manner. Frequently they take the hero as the object of study
because, for reasons of their personal emotional life, they bear him a
special affection from the very outset. They then devote themselves to a
work of idealization which strives to enroll the great men among their
infantile models, and to revive through him, as it were, the infantile
conception of the father. For the sake of this wish they wipe out the
individual features in his physiognomy, they rub out the traces of his
life's struggle with inner and outer resistances, and do not tolerate in
him anything of human weakness or imperfection; they then give us a
cold, strange, ideal form instead of the man to whom we could feel
distantly related. It is to be regretted that they do this, for they
thereby sacrifice the truth to an illusion, and for the sake of their
infantile phantasies they let slip the opportunity to penetrate into the
most attractive secrets of human nature.[76]

Leonardo himself, judging from his love for the truth and his
inquisitiveness, would have interposed no objections to the effort of
discovering the determinations of his psychic and intellectual
development from the trivial peculiarities and riddles of his nature. We
respect him by learning from him. It does no injury to his greatness to
study the sacrifices which his development from the child must have
entailed, and to the compile factors which have stamped on his person
the tragic feature of failure.

Let us expressly emphasize that we have never considered Leonardo as a
neurotic or as a "nervous person" in the sense of this awkward term.
Whoever takes it amiss that we should even dare apply to him viewpoints
gained from pathology, still clings to prejudices which we have at
present justly given up. We no longer believe that health and disease,
normal and nervous, are sharply distinguished from each other, and that
neurotic traits must be judged as proof of general inferiority. We know
to-day that neurotic symptoms are substitutive formations for certain
repressive acts which have to be brought about in the course of our
development from the child to the cultural man, that we all produce
such substitutive formations, and that only the amount, intensity, and
distribution of these substitutive formations justify the practical
conception of illness and the conclusion of constitutional inferiority.
Following the slight signs in Leonardo's personality we would place him
near that neurotic type which we designate as the "compulsive type," and
we would compare his investigation with the "reasoning mania" of
neurotics, and his inhibitions with the so-called "abulias" of the

The object of our work was to explain the inhibitions in Leonardo's
sexual life and in his artistic activity. For this purpose we shall now
sum up what we could discover concerning the course of his psychic

We were unable to gain any knowledge about his hereditary factors, on
the other hand we recognize that the accidental circumstances of his
childhood produced a far reaching disturbing effect. His illegitimate
birth deprived him of the influence of a father until perhaps his fifth
year, and left him to the tender seduction of a mother whose only
consolation he was. Having been kissed by her into sexual prematurity,
he surely must have entered into a phase of infantile sexual activity of
which only one single manifestation was definitely evinced, namely, the
intensity of his infantile sexual investigation. The impulse for looking
and inquisitiveness were most strongly stimulated by his impressions
from early childhood; the enormous mouth-zone received its accentuation
which it had never given up. From his later contrasting behavior, as the
exaggerated sympathy for animals, we can conclude that this infantile
period did not lack in strong sadistic traits.

An energetic shift of repression put an end to this infantile excess,
and established the dispositions which became manifest in the years of
puberty. The most striking result of this transformation was a turning
away from all gross sensual activities. Leonardo was able to lead a life
of abstinence and made the impression of an asexual person. When the
floods of pubescent excitement came over the boy they did not make him
ill by forcing him to costly and harmful substitutive formations; owing
to the early preference for sexual inquisitiveness, the greater part of
the sexual needs could be sublimated into a general thirst after
knowledge and so elude repression. A much smaller portion of the libido
was applied to sexual aims, and represented the stunted sexual life of
the grown up. In consequence of the repression of the love for the
mother this portion assumed a homosexual attitude and manifested itself
as ideal love for boys. The fixation on the mother, as well as the happy
reminiscences of his relations with her, was preserved in his
unconscious but remained for the time in an inactive state. In this
manner the repression, fixation, and sublimation participated in the
disposal of the contributions which the sexual impulse furnished to
Leonardo's psychic life.

From the obscure age of boyhood Leonardo appears to us as an artist, a
painter, and sculptor, thanks to a specific talent which was probably
enforced by the early awakening of the impulse for looking in the first
years of childhood. We would gladly report in what way the artistic
activity depends on the psychic primitive forces were it not that our
material is inadequate just here. We content ourselves by emphasizing
the fact, concerning which hardly any doubt still exists, that the
productions of the artist give outlet also to his sexual desire, and in
the case of Leonardo we can refer to the information imparted by Vasari,
namely, that heads of laughing women and pretty boys, or representations
of his sexual objects, attracted attention among his first artistic
attempts. It seems that during his flourishing youth Leonardo at first
worked in an uninhibited manner. As he took his father as a model for
his outer conduct in life, he passed through a period of manly creative
power and artistic productivity in Milan, where favored by fate he found
a substitute for his father in the duke Lodovico Moro. But the
experience of others was soon confirmed in him, to wit, that the almost
complete suppression of the real sexual life does not furnish the most
favorable conditions for the activity of the sublimated sexual
strivings. The figurativeness of his sexual life asserted itself, his
activity and ability to quick decisions began to weaken, the tendency to
reflection and delay was already noticeable as a disturbance in The
Holy Supper, and with the influence of the technique determined the fate
of this magnificent work. Slowly a process developed in him which can be
put parallel only to the regressions of neurotics. His development at
puberty into the artist was outstripped by the early infantile
determinant of the investigator, the second sublimation of his erotic
impulses turned back to the primitive one which was prepared at the
first repression. He became an investigator, first in service of his
art, later independently and away from his art. With the loss of his
patron, the substitute for his father, and with the increasing
difficulties in his life, the regressive displacement extended in
dimension. He became _"impacientissimo al pennello"_ (most impatient
with the brush) as reported by a correspondent of the countess Isabella
d'Este who desired to possess at any cost a painting from his hand.[77]
His infantile past had obtained control over him. The investigation,
however, which now took the place of his artistic production, seems to
have born certain traits which betrayed the activity of unconscious
impulses; this was seen in his insatiability, his regardless obstinacy,
and in his lack of ability to adjust himself to actual conditions.

At the summit of his life, in the age of the first fifties, at a time
when the sex characteristics of the woman have already undergone a
regressive change, and when the libido in the man not infrequently
ventures into an energetic advance, a new transformation came over him.
Still deeper strata of his psychic content became active again, but this
further regression was of benefit to his art which was in a state of
deterioration. He met the woman who awakened in him the memory of the
happy and sensuously enraptured smile of his mother, and under the
influence of this awakening he acquired back the stimulus which guided
him in the beginning of his artistic efforts when he formed the smiling
woman. He painted Monna Lisa, Saint Anne, and a number of mystic
pictures which were characterized by the enigmatic smile. With the help
of his oldest erotic feelings he triumphed in conquering once more the
inhibition in his art. This last development faded away in the obscurity
of the approaching old age. But before this his intellect rose to the
highest capacity of a view of life, which was far in advance of his

In the preceding chapters I have shown what justification one may have
for such representation of Leonardo's course of development, for this
manner of arranging his life and explaining his wavering between art and
science. If after accomplishing these things I should provoke the
criticism from even friends and adepts of psychoanalysis, that I have
only written a psychoanalytic romance, I should answer that I certainly
did not overestimate the reliability of these results. Like others I
succumbed to the attraction emanating from this great and mysterious
man, in whose being one seems to feel powerful propelling passions,
which after all can only evince themselves so remarkably subdued.

But whatever may be the truth about Leonardo's life we cannot relinquish
our effort to investigate it psychoanalytically before we have finished
another task. In general we must mark out the limits which are set up
for the working capacity of psychoanalysis in biography so that every
omitted explanation should not be held up to us as a failure.
Psychoanalytic investigation has at its disposal the data of the history
of the person's life, which on the one hand consists of accidental
events and environmental influences, and on the other hand of the
reported reactions of the individual. Based on the knowledge of psychic
mechanisms it now seeks to investigate dynamically the character of the
individual from his reactions, and to lay bare his earliest psychic
motive forces as well as their later transformations and developments.
If this succeeds then the reaction of the personality is explained
through the coöperation of constitutional and accidental factors or
through inner and outer forces. If such an undertaking, as perhaps in
the case of Leonardo, does not yield definite results then the blame for
it is not to be laid to the faulty or inadequate psychoanalytic method,
but to the vague and fragmentary material left by tradition about this
person. It is, therefore, only the author who forced psychoanalysis to
furnish an expert opinion on such insufficient material, who is to be
held responsible for the failure.

However, even if one had at his disposal a very rich historical material
and could manage the psychic mechanism with the greatest certainty, a
psychoanalytic investigation could not possibly furnish the definite
view, if it concerns two important questions, that the individual could
turn out only so and not differently. Concerning Leonardo we had to
represent the view that the accident of his illegitimate birth and the
pampering of his mother exerted the most decisive influence on his
character formation and his later fate, through the fact that the sexual
repression following this infantile phase caused him to sublimate his
libido into a thirst after knowledge, and thus determined his sexual
inactivity for his entire later life. The repression, however, which
followed the first erotic gratification of childhood did not have to
take place, in another individual it would perhaps not have taken place
or it would have turned out not nearly as profuse. We must recognize
here a degree of freedom which can no longer be solved psychoanalytically.
One is as little justified in representing the issue of this shift of
repression as the only possible issue. It is quite probable that another
person would not have succeeded in withdrawing the main part of his
libido from the repression through sublimation into a desire for
knowledge; under the same influences as Leonardo another person might
have sustained a permanent injury to his intellectual work or an
uncontrollable disposition to compulsion neurosis. The two
characteristics of Leonardo which remained unexplained through
psychoanalytic effort are first, his particular tendency to repress his
impulses, and second, his extraordinary ability to sublimate the
primitive impulses.

The impulses and their transformations are the last things that
psychoanalysis can discern. Henceforth it leaves the place to biological
investigation. The tendency to repression, as well as the ability to
sublimate, must be traced back to the organic bases of the character,
upon which alone the psychic structure springs up. As artistic talent
and productive ability are intimately connected with sublimation we
have to admit that also the nature of artistic attainment is
psychoanalytically inaccessible to us. Biological investigation of our
time endeavors to explain the chief traits of the organic constitution
of a person through the fusion of male and female predispositions in the
material sense; Leonardo's physical beauty as well as his
left-handedness furnish here some support. However, we do not wish to
leave the ground of pure psychologic investigation. Our aim remains to
demonstrate the connection between outer experiences and reactions of
the person over the path of the activity of the impulses. Even if
psychoanalysis does not explain to us the fact of Leonardo's artistic
accomplishment, it still gives us an understanding of the expressions
and limitations of the same. It does seem as if only a man with
Leonardo's childhood experiences could have painted Monna Lisa and Saint
Anne, and could have supplied his works with that sad fate and so obtain
unheard of fame as a natural historian; it seems as if the key to all
his attainments and failures was hidden in the childhood phantasy of
the vulture.

But may one not take offense at the results of an investigation which
concede to the accidents of the parental constellation so decisive an
influence on the fate of a person, which, for example, subordinates
Leonardo's fate to his illegitimate birth and to the sterility of his
first step-mother Donna Albiera? I believe that one has no right to feel
so; if one considers accident as unworthy of determining our fate, it is
only a relapse to the pious aspect of life, the overcoming of which
Leonardo himself prepared when he put down in writing that the sun does
not move. We are naturally grieved over the fact that a just God and a
kindly providence do not guard us better against such influences in our
most defenseless age. We thereby gladly forget that as a matter of fact
everything in our life is accident from our very origin through the
meeting of spermatozoa and ovum, accident, which nevertheless
participates in the lawfulness and fatalities of nature, and lacks only
the connection to our wishes and illusions. The division of life's
determinants into the "fatalities" of our constitution and the
"accidents" of our childhood may still be indefinite in individual
cases, but taken altogether one can no longer entertain any doubt about
the importance of precisely our first years of childhood. We all still
show too little respect for nature, which in Leonardo's deep words
recalling Hamlet's speech _"is full of infinite reasons which never
appeared in experience."_[78] Every one of us human beings corresponds
to one of the infinite experiments in which these "reasons of nature"
force themselves into experience.



[1] In the words of J. Burckhard, cited by Alexandra Konstantinowa, Die
Entwicklung des Madonnentypus by Leonardo da Vinci, Strassburg, 1907.

[2] Vite, etc. LXXXIII. 1550-1584.

[3] Traktat von der Malerei, new edition and introduction by Marie
Herzfeld, E. Diederichs, Jena, 1909.

[4] Solmi. La resurrezione dell' opera di Leonardo in the collected
work; Leonardo da Vinci. Conferenze Florentine, Milan, 1910.

[5] Scognamiglio Ricerche e Documenti sulla giovinezza di Leonardo da
Vinci. Napoli, 1900.

[6] W. v. Seidlitz. Leonardo da Vinci, der Wendepunkt der Renaissance,
1909, Bd. I, p. 203.

[7] W. v. Seidlitz, l. c. Bd. II, p. 48

[8] W. Pater. The Renaissance, p. 107, The Macmillan Co., 1910. "But it
is certain that at one period of his life he had almost ceased to be an

[9] Cf. v. Seidlitz, Bd. I die Geschichte der Restaurations--und

[10] Müntz. Léonard de Vinci, Paris, 1899, p. 18. (A letter of a
contemporary from India to a Medici alludes to this peculiarity of
Leonardo. Given by Richter: The literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci.)

[11] F. Botazzi. Leonardo biologo e anatomico. Conferenze Florentine, p.
186, 1910.

[12] E. Solmi: Leonardo da Vinci. German Translation by Emmi Hirschberg.
Berlin, 1908.

[13] Marie Herzfeld: Leonardo da Vinci der Denker, Forscher und Poet.
Second edition. Jena, 1906.

[14] His collected witticisms--belle facezie,--which are not translated,
may be an exception. Cf. Herzfeld, Leonardo da Vinci, p. 151.

[15] According to Scognamiglio (l. c. p. 49) reference is made to this
episode in an obscure and even variously interpreted passage of the
Codex Atlanticus: "Quando io feci Domeneddio putto voi mi metteste in
prigione, ora s'io lo fo grande, voi mi farete peggio."

[16] Merejkowski: The Romance of Leonardo da Vinci, translated by
Herbert Trench, G. P. Putnam Sons, New York. It forms the second of the
historical Trilogy entitled Christ and Anti-Christ, of which the first
volume is Julian Apostata, and the third volume is Peter the Great and

[17] Solmi l. c. p. 46.

[18] Filippo Botazzi, l. c. p. 193.

[19] Marie Herzfeld: Leonardo da Vinci, Traktat von der Malerei, Jena,
1909 (Chap. I, 64).

[20] "Such transfiguration of science and of nature into emotions, or
one might say, religion, is one of the characteristic traits of da
Vinci's manuscripts, which one finds expressed hundreds of times."
Solmi: La resurrezione, etc, p. 11.

[21] La resurrezione, etc., p. 8: "Leonardo placed the study of nature
as a precept to painting ... later the passion for study became
dominating, he no longer wished to acquire science for art, but science
for science' sake."

[22] For an enumeration of his scientific attainments see Marie
Herzfeld's interesting introduction (Jena, 1906) to the essays of the
Conference Florentine, 1910, and elsewhere.

[23] For a corroboration of this improbable sounding assertion see the
"Analysis of the Phobia of a Five-year-old Boy," Jahrbuch für
Psychoanalytische und Psychopathologische Forschungen, Bd. I, 1909, and
the similar observation in Bd. II, 1910. In an essay concerning
"Infantile Theories of Sex" (Sammlungen kleiner Schriften zur
Neurosenlehre, p. 167, Second Series, 1909), I wrote: "But this
reasoning and doubting serves as a model for all later intellectual work
in problems, and the first failure acts as a paralyzer for all times."

[24] Scognamiglio 1. c., p. 15.

[25] Cited by Scognamiglio from the Codex Atlanticus, p. 65.

[26] Cf. here the "Bruchstück einer Hysterieanalyse," in Neurosenlehre,
Second series, 1909.

[27] Horapollo: Hieroglyphica I, II. Μητἑρα δἑ γρἁφοντες ... γὑπα ζωγραφοὑσιυ.

[28] Roscher: Ausf. Lexicon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie.
Artikel Mut, II Bd., 1894-1897.--Lanzone. Dizionario di Mitologia
egizia. Torino, 1882.

[29] H. Hartleben, Champollion. Sein Leben und sein Werk, 1906.

[30] "γὑπα δἑ ἁρρενα οὑ φασνγἑνεσθαι ποτε, ἁιλἁ φηλεἱας ἁπἁσας," cited by v. Römer. Über die
androgynische Idee des Lebens, Jahrb. f. Sexuelle Zwischenstufen, V, 1903, p. 732.

[31] Plutarch: Veluti scarabaeos mares tantum esse putarunt Aegyptii sic
inter vultures mares non inveniri statuerunt

[32] Horapollinis Niloi Hieroglyphica edidit Conradus Leemans
Amstelodami, 1835. The words referring to the sex of the vulture read as
follows (p. 14): "μητἑρα μἑν ἑπειδἡ ἁρρεν ἑν τοὑτω γἑνει τὡων οὑχ ὑπἁρχει."

[33] E. Müntz, 1. c., p. 282.

[34] E. Müntz, 1. c.

[35] See the illustrations in Lanzone l. c. T. CXXXVI-VIII.

[36] v. Römer l. c.

[37] Cf. the observations in the Jahrbuch für Psychoanalytische und
Psychopathologische Forschungen, Vol. I, 1909.

[38] Cf. Richard Payne Knight: The Cult of Priapus.

[39] Prominently among those who undertook these investigations are I.
Sadger, whose results I can essentially corroborate from my own
experience. I am also aware that Stekel of Vienna, Ferenczi of Budapest,
and Brill of New York, came to the same conclusions.

[40] Edm. Solmi: Leonardo da Vinci, German translation, p. 152.

[41] Solmi, 1. c. p. 203.

[42] Leonardo thus behaves like one who was in the habit of making a
daily confession to another person whom he now replaced by his diary.
For an assumption as to who this person may have been see Merejkowski,
p. 309.

[43] M. Herzfeld: Leonardo da Vinci, 1906, p. 141.

[44] The wording is that of Merejkowski, 1. c. p. 237.

[45] The equestrian monument of Francesco Sforza.

[46] The full wording is found in M. Herzfeld, 1. c. p. 45.

[47] Merejkowski 1. c.--As a disappointing illustration of the vagueness
of the information concerning Leonardo's intimate life, meager as it is,
I mention the fact that the same expense account is given by Solmi with
considerable variation (German translation, p. 104). The most serious
difference is the substitution of florins by soldi. One may assume that
in this account florins do not mean the old "gold florins," but those
used at a later period which amounted to 1-2/3 lira or 33-1/2
soldi.--Solmi represents Caterina as a servant who had taken care of
Leonardo's household for a certain time. The source from which the two
representations of this account were taken was not accessible to me.

[48] "Caterina came in July, 1493."

[49] The manner of expression through which the repressed libidio could
manifest itself in Leonardo, such as circumstantiality and marked
interest in money, belongs to those traits of character which emanate
from anal eroticism. Cf. Character und Analerotik in the second series
of my Sammlung zur Neurosenlehre, 1909, also Brill's Psychoanalysis, its
Theories and Practical Applications, Chap. XIII, Anal Eroticism and
Character, Saunders, Philadelphia.

[50] Seidlitz: Leonardo da Vinci, II Bd., p. 280.

[51] Geschichte der Malerei, Bd. I, p. 314.

[52] l. c. p. 417.

[53] A. Conti: Leonardo pittore, Conferenze Fiorentine, l. c. p. 93.

[54] l. c. p. 45.

[55] W. Pater: The Renaissance, p. 124, The Macmillan Co., 1910.

[56] M. Herzfeld: Leonardo da Vinci, p. 88.

[57] Scognamiglio, l. c. p. 32.

[58] L. Schorn, Bd. III, 1843, p. 6.

[59] The same is assumed by Merejkowski, who imagined a childhood for
Leonardo which deviates in the essential points from ours, drawn from
the results of the vulture phantasy. But if Leonardo himself had
displayed this smile, tradition hardly would have failed to report to us
this coincidence.

[60] l. c. p. 309.

[61] A. Konstantinowa, l. c., says: "Mary looks tenderly down on her
beloved child with a smile that recalls the mysterious expression of la
Gioconda." Elsewhere speaking of Mary she says: "The smile of Gioconda
floats upon her features."

[62] Cf. v. Seidlitz, l. c. Bd. II, p. 274.

[63] Cf. Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex, translated by A. A.
Brill, 2nd edition, 1916, Monograph series.

[64] "On the 9th of July, 1504, Wednesday at 7 o'clock died Ser Piero da
Vinci, notary at the palace of the Podesta, my father, at 7 o'clock. He
was 80 years old, left 10 sons and 2 daughters." (E. Müntz, l. c. p.

[65] I shall overlook a greater error committed by Leonardo in his
notice in that he gives his 77-year-old father 80 years.

[66] "He who usurps on earth my place, my place, my place, which is void
in the presence of the Son of God, has made out of my cemetery a sewer."

[67] It seems that in that passage of the diary Leonardo also erred in
the number of his sisters and brothers, which stands in remarkable
contrast to the apparent exactness of the same.

[68] v. Seidlitz, l. c., II, p. 270.

[69] Solmi, Conf. fior, p. 13.

[70] Müntz, l. c., La Religion de Leonardo, p. 292, etc.

[71] Herzfeld, p. 292.

[72] Vasari, translated by Schorn, 1843.

[73] Ebenda, p. 39.

[74] Concerning these letters and the combinations connected with them
see Müntz, l. c., p. 82; for the wording of the same and for the notices
connected with them see Herzfeld, l. c., p. 223.

[75] Besides, he lost some time in that he even made a drawing of a
braided cord in which one could follow the thread from one end to the
other, until it formed a perfectly circular figure; a very difficult and
beautiful drawing of this kind is engraved on copper, in the center of
it one can read the words: "Leonardus Vinci Academia" (p. 8).

[76] This criticism holds quite generally and is not aimed at Leonardo's
biographers in particular.

[77] Seidlitz II, p. 271.

[78] La natura è piena d'infinite ragionè che non furono mai in
isperienza, M. Herzfeld, l. c. p. II.

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