– Alex Lo
published: Saturday, 21 March, 2015, 12:21am.
The Chinese discovered America. The Chinese inspired the Italian Renaissance. The Chinese invented calculus. Oh, by the way, Leonardo da Vinci was half Chinese.
As much as I take pride in being Chinese, I don’t really buy those theories, amusing as they are. The last one comes from my old friend Angelo Paratico, the most prolific and erudite writer I know in Hong Kong, having published at least one book a year over a decade.
I especially like his translation from the Latin of an unorthodox biography of the Roman emperor Nero by Girolamo Gardano, the 16th century Italian polymath. Confession: I wrote the foreword to that book. Angelo told me if you write one book a year, eventually one would catch on. His latest, Leonardo da Vinci: A Chinese Scholar Lost in Renaissance Italy, has attracted a fair amount of attention, including the wires, most of the London broadsheets and the website Huffington Post.
On Angelo’s telling, da Vinci’s mother, Caterina, was a Chinese domestic slave. As a young girl, she was captured by Mongol raiders, sold as a slave in the Crimea and shipped to Venice to serve as a servant. Her fate was not unusual. Apparently oriental slaves were a common sight in places like Tuscany.
Leonardo’s father, Ser Piero di Antonio, was a successful notary in Florence. He ended up owning Caterina and bedded her. After she gave birth, he ignored his son and engineered her marriage to one of his handymen.
“Ser Piero Da Vinci appeared to be a profiteer with few scruples who abandoned his son and left him exposed to abuse,” Angelo wrote. “It is therefore reasonable to assume that Leonardo spent his youth close to his mother and adoptive father in their house.”
How does Angelo know all this? Well, the great Sigmund Freud famously declared that Mona Lisa was da Vinci’s mother.
Just look at her oriental features and the Chinese landscape in the background of the painting. Furthermore, Leonardo was left-handed and a vegetarian. That was very rare among Europeans of the time, according to Angelo, characteristics he attributed to the Chinese influence of his mother.
Farfetched? It is! But Angelo has been a highly imaginative novelist and his new book is a great read.