New research claims Italy’s Leonardo da Vinci was son of a slave

Leonardo da Vinci, the painter of the Mona Lisa and a symbol of the Renaissance, was only half-Italian, his mother a slave from the Caucasus, new research revealed on Tuesday.

New research claims Italy's Leonardo da Vinci was son of a slave
Leonardo da Vinci's 'The Trivulzian Codex' in Villa La Loggia in Florence, on March 14, 2023. Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP.

Da Vinci’s mother had long been thought a Tuscan peasant, but University of Naples professor Carlo Vecce, a specialist in the Old Master, believes the truth is more complicated.

“Leonardo’s mother was a Circassian slave… taken from her home in the Caucasus Mountains, sold and resold several times in Constantinople, then Venice, before arriving in Florence,” he told AFP at the launch of a new book.

In the Italian city, she met young notary Piero da Vinci “and their son was called Leonardo”.

The findings of Vecce, who has spent decades studying da Vinci and curating his works, are based on Florence city archives.

READ ALSO: In the footsteps of genius: A travel guide to Leonardo Da Vinci’s Italy

They have formed the basis of a new novel – “The Smile of Caterina, the mother of Leonardo” — while also shedding new light on the artist himself.

Any new discovery about da Vinci is hotly contested by the small world of experts who study him, but Vecce insists the evidence is there.

Among the documents he found is one written by da Vinci’s father himself, a legal document of emancipation for Caterina, “to recover her freedom and recover her human dignity”.

A person stands next to a self-portrait of Leonardo Da Vinci at the Biblioteca Reale in Turin.

A person stands next to a self-portrait of Leonardo Da Vinci at the Biblioteca Reale in Turin. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO/ AFP.

‘Spirit of freedom’

This document is dated 1452, and was presented on Tuesday at a press conference at the headquarters of publishing house Giunti in Florence.

It was written by “the man who loved Caterina when she was still a slave, who gave her this child named Leonardo and (was) also the person who helped to free her”, Vecce said.

His assertion offers a radical change of perspective on da Vinci, who was believed to have been the product of an affair between Piero da Vinci and a different woman, young Tuscan peasant Caterina di Meo Lippi.

Born in 1452 in the countryside outside Florence, da Vinci spent his life travelling around Italy before dying in Amboise, France in 1519, at the court of King Francis 1.

Vecce believes the difficult life of his “migrant” mother had an impact on the work of her brilliant son.

READ ALSO: Italian researchers discover 14 descendants of Leonardo Da Vinci living in Tuscany

“Caterina left Leonardo a great legacy, certainly, the spirit of freedom,” he said, “which inspires all of his intellectual scientific work”.

Da Vinci was a polymath, an artist who mastered several disciplines including sculpture, drawing, music and painting, but also engineering, anatomy, botany and architecture.

“He doesn’t let anything stop him,” Vecce said.

Some may consider the idea that this epitome of a “Renaissance man” was the product of such a union too good to be true.

But Paolo Galluzzi, a da Vinci historian and member of the prestigious Lincei scientific academy in Rome, said it is “by far the most convincing”.

Speaking to AFP, he highlighted the quality of the documents discovered by his colleague, adding that there “must remain a minimum of doubt, because we cannot do a DNA test”.

Galluzzi said he was also not surprised.

The period into which da Vinci was born marks “the beginning of modernity, the exchanges between people, cultures and civilisations which gave birth to the modern world”, he said.

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Florence mayor defends US teacher forced to quit in row over David statue

A Florence museum and the city’s mayor invited pupils and parents at a Florida school to the city to view Michelangelo’s ‘David’ after complaints about a lesson featuring the statue forced the principal to resign.

Florence mayor defends US teacher forced to quit in row over David statue

The mayor of the Italian city of Florence on Saturday defended a Florida school principal who resigned after a parent complained students were exposed to “pornography” during an art lesson that featured Michelangelo’s David sculpture. 

“A Florida teacher was forced to quit for showing students photos of Michelangelo’s David. Mistaking art for pornography is just ridiculous,” said Florence mayor Dario Nardella in a tweet.

“I will personally invite the teacher to Florence to give her recognition on behalf of the city,” Nardella added.

“Art is civilization and whoever teaches it deserves respect.”

The famed 16th century marble statue, which depicts the biblical figure David in the nude, is housed in Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia art museum. 

Tallahassee Classical School principal Hope Carrasquilla resigned after the school board reportedly told her to step down or be fired over the incident.

One parent reportedly complained that the material shown to the sixth-grade art class was pornographic, and two others said they should have been warned about the lesson beforehand.

The school reportedly has a policy requiring parents to be notified in advance about any “controversial” topics being taught.

In Italy the Renaissance and its masterpieces, including nude sculptures, are generally seen as uncontroversial.

Leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera’s front page on Sunday featured a satirical cartoon depicting David with his genitals covered by an image of Uncle Sam and the word “Shame.”

Galleria dell’Accademia director Cecilie Hollberg told AFP the controversy was “absolutely astonishing”.

“We are talking about the icon of the Renaissance, Michelangelo’s David, which has been recognised across the world for generations,” Hollberg said in a telephone interview.

She said the statue was hailed for its beauty and “purity”, adding: “One must have a twisted mind to combine nudity with what was suggested, because obviously there is a big difference between nudity and pornography.”

The director decried “a huge ignorance” about history and the history of art which, “more than anything, is quite sad.”

She warned that “we are really losing our connection with our culture and history… to think that once in Greece, at the Olympic Games, everyone was naked!”