The riddle of Leonardo Da Vinci’s mother in the Book of Martin Kemp and Giuseppe Pallanti

Martin Kemp and Giuseppe Pallanti have jointly written and published an important book under the title of Mona Lisa. The people and the Painting.
In its essence, this book is an excursus around the most famous painting in the world, the Mona Lisa. The thesis presented by the authors is the canonical one: the painting known as Mona Lisa, hanging at the Louvre of Paris, indeed represents Monna Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo and it was begun in 1503, during the second stay of Leonardo in Florence.
There is nothing new in it but Kemp and Pallanti present and discuss what has been already published on this intriguing subject over the years, with an exposition which is shining with precision and clarity and where even the tiniest details are exposed with characteristic academic rigor
The chapter which is really adding something new, making exciting reading, is the last, where the latest scientific results concerning the Mona Lisa are presented. There we find a detailed explanation on all high resolution optical findings made over the years by Pascal Cotte.

About a month ago, all over the world they were talking about this soon to be published book. The two authors enjoy a well-deserved reputation and two revelations made by Martin Kemp to the press – he is Emeritus Professor of Art at Trinity College, Oxford University and one of the top world experts on Leonardo da Vinci – caught the headlines.
Here are the two points.
The first is due to new discoveries made by Giuseppe Pallanti – a Florentine professor of economics and a keen explorer of ancient archives – about new documents supposedly revealing the identity of Catherine, the mysterious mother of Leonardo.
The second point concerns the house of Anchiano, near Vinci, where tourists go to visit the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci. Kemp claims that, in fact, Leonardo was not born there.
About this second point there is nothing new. Italian specialists of Leonardo know perfectly well that he was not born there but rather inside the village of Vinci. Well, do you remember the famous joke made by stringers? Never let the truth cross the path of a good story.

The first point raised by Martin Kemp was the one that stimulated my curiosity to the point of spending 40 USD to order the book on line, since it is going in the contrary direction of what I have claimed – together with some better qualified experts than me, like Francesco Cianchi – in my recent book on Leonardo da Vinci.

Kemp and Pallanti claim that Catherine was a poor farmer girl of Vinci and not a slave, and they dismiss the possibility that she was a slave claiming that “there was ot a trace of slaves in Vinci at that time”. This may well be but she could have been a slave removed from Florence to Vinci, after being freed and given away in marriage.

The archival documents presented in this book concern an orphan girl from Vinci named Catherine di Meo Lippi who, in July 1451 (when Leonardo was conceived) was 15 years old.
The solution to this century-old riddle lays in linking this Catherine di Meo Lippi to Catherine, wife of Antonio Buti (nicknamed Accattabriga) and a laborer close to Ser Piero da Vinci, the biological father of Leonardo.
If they could establish such connection, then it will be game over.
After Leonardo da Vinci’s birth by Catherine out of wedlock with Ser Piero da Vinci, she was given in marriage to the Accattabriga and went on to have 4 daughters and 1 son with him.

The first problem in establishing such a link between the two Catherines is the age.
We are in possession of a legal document signed by the Accattabriga, dated 1484 in which his wife Catherine is said to be 60, therefore her birthdate should be set at 1424, thus in 1451 she was 25 years old.
Another legal document where her age is mentioned is the registration of her death, in Milan, dated 1494, where again she is said to be 60, but here the only source of her age is from her son, Leonardo and possibly he was not very well aware of it… thus, it follows Catherine’s birth date was 1434 and in 1451 she was 17 years old, not 15.

In the baptism record written by Leonardo’s grandfather, Antonio da Vinci, found in 1932 by a German historian, there is the proof that Leonardo was born in Vinci and the names of several witnesses are indicated, but it is missing the name of his mother Catherine, a rather odd thing.
A similar oddity is detected for the request of tax exemption presented by Antonio da Vinci, dated 1457, where Leonardo is mentioned as a 5-year old and said to be the illegitimate son of Catherine, by then married to the Accattabriga. There is no patronymic of this Catherine,but if she was Catherine di Meo Lippi then why not say it?
Kemp and Pallanti explain this by saying that: “The tone of his record was more colloquial than formal: he spoke of ‘Catherine’ as if it were obvious locally to whom he was referring, without needing to say more”.
This seems something said to explain the inexplicable, since the document was filed in Florence and was the Florentine taxman supposed to know Catherine of Vinci?

There is no point where we find a connection between Catherine, wife of Accattabriga and Catherine di Meo Lippi. The only vague hint is the fact that the youngest daughter of Catherine and Accattabriga was named Sandra. Sandra was an uncommon name in those years but was also the name of Orso Lippi, a cousin of Catherine di Meo Lippi, living at Mattoni, a hamlet close to Vinci. But this seems a rather weak argument, in a village so scarcely populated like Vinci. Certainly Catherine, the mother of Leonardo, living at Campo Zeppi, very close to Mattoni, she had certainly met and known the wife of Orso Lippi, and perhaps they were friends, so much friends that Catherine decided to name her last daughter after her.
My wife’s second name is Stefania and she received that name because of a well-off family of a neighbor in Verona: they had a daughter with that name and it did catch the fancy of my mother in law but they were not related, just neighbors.

As Carl Sagan said: “Extraordinary claims call for extraordinary proofs”.
I know something about it myself, after having written a book trying to prove that this Catherine was an Oriental slave, perhaps Chinese and I must admit that here, like in my book, the ‘smoking gun’ is missing.

Martin Kemp & Giuseppe Pallanti Mona Lisa. The people and the Painting Oxford University Press, 2017. USD34.95
ISBN 978-0-19-874990-5

For an Italian version of this article look on a blog on the Corriere della Sera:


Francesco Cianchi. La Madre di Leonardo era una Schiava?

Il libro di Francesco Cianchi La Madre di Leonardo era una schiava? venne pubblicato dal Museo Ideale Leonardo Da Vinci nel 2008, con una introduzione di Carlo Pedretti. Questa è stata un’opera fondamentale per scrivere il mio libro dedicato alla madre di Leonardo, pubblicato da Gingko Editore nel 2017, con una presentazione di Salvatore Giannella.Si tratta di un’opera molto rigorosa, scarna, basata su documenti d’archivio ma che un amante di Leonardo legge come se fosse un thriller. In Italia ha avuto una diffusione quasi nulla e non è mai stata tradotta in inglese, francese o tedesco, come avrebbe meritato. Nel 2013, avendo scorto questo titolo in una bibliografia, dovetti penare non poco per acquistarne una copia. Da Hong Kong telefonai a Vinci, parlando con una gentilissima signora, responsabile del Museo Ideale Leonardo Da Vinci, che me la spedì.

Renzo Cianchi (1901-1985) è stato un grande studioso di Leonardo Da Vinci, della sua vita, della sua opera e del suo pensiero. Fondò a Vinci il Museo Ideale Leonardo Da Vinci, che è cresciuto negli anni, sino a diventare quella importante istituzione che è oggi.

Cianchi pubblicò un gran numero di saggi e di libri dedicati all’arte rinascimentale e fu lui il primo a proporre l’ipotesi che Caterina, la madre di Leonardo, fosse stata una schiava, dopo che trovò dei documenti nel Catasto di Firenze relativi a un testamento di un ricco cliente di Ser Piero Da Vinci, morto nel 1451, un usuraio di nome Ser Vanni.
Parlò di questa sua scoperta a Neera Fallaci, la sorella della scrittrice Oriana Fallaci, la quale nel 1975 pubblicò su Oggi un articolo su tale argomento.

In seguito, Renzo Cianchi lasciò queste sue ricerche sulla schiava Caterina nel cassetto della propria scrivania ma ne parlò al figlio, Francesco, dopo che scoprì d’essere gravemente ammalato. Dopo la morte del genitore, Francesco Cianchi riordinò le carte del padre e completò le sue ricerche, pubblicando questo libro di 60 pagine, contenente le sue sorprendenti scoperte.

Giacché la data di nascita di Leonardo è incontestabile, 15 aprile 1452, Renzo Cianchi tornò indietro nove mesi prima della sua nascita, al luglio del 1451 e trovò varie tracce lasciate da Ser Piero a Firenze: un documento datato 7 luglio 1451 e poi un altro datato il 15 luglio 1451, entrambi redatti a Firenze, e altri ancora immediatamente prima e dopo queste date. Il documento legale più avanti nel tempo scritto da Ser Piero, risulta del il 4 settembre, 1451, sempre a Firenze. Tali documenti dimostrarono che Ser Piero risiedeva a Firenze in quel tempo e fu a Firenze che ingravidò la madre di Leonardo, dunque nessuna contadinella di Vinci…

Non è pertanto azzardato pensare che Ser Piero fosse di casa da Ser Vanni, a Firenze, in Via Ghibellina e, mentre lui agonizzava nel letto, falsificò certe clausole nel testamento, che lui stesso aveva redatto, volgendolo a proprio favore e profittò sessualmente della sua schiava, Caterina.

Le Schiave Orientali a Firenze nei Secoli XIV e XV di Agostino Zanelli

Uno dei libri che più mi hanno aiutano nelle mie ricerche sulle presunte origini orientali della madre-schiava di Leonardo Da Vinci è stato un testo pubblicato a Firenze nel 1885 e frutto delle ricerche d’archivio di Agostino Zanelli. Mi fu difficilissimo rintracciarne una copia cartacea ma ho recentemente scoperto che il testo è stato messo in rete da una Università statunitense.





Il link si trova qui sotto, basta copiarlo e metterlo sopra alla pagina del proprio computer per vedere aprirsi questo vecchio libro dimenticato…

Alex Lo of the SCMP presents my book on Leonardo

My Take

– Alex Lo
published: Saturday, 21 March, 2015, 12:21am.

Alex Lo

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.



What a ride! Posts about China & Leonardo cause a storm.


It all started with an innocent post on B39 about the similarities between the church of Saint Paul of Macau with a mysterious sketch by Leonardo Da Vinci kept at Venice’s Gallerie dell’Accademia – please, search my blog and your will find 4 articles worth reading on Leonardo Da Vinci.
That article caught the attention of Ricardo Pinto, the maverick owner of the Portuguese newspaper Ponto Final, which is published in Macau.
In the interview, which was run three weeks ago, I had mentioned a book on Leonardo which I have nearly completed. That article was read by Raquel Carvalho, a Portuguese speaking reporter with the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and she did an interview with me which was printed on November 23rd on the South China Morning Post. Then an Italian article on the blog of Dino Messina ‘La Nostra Storia’ on Corriere della Sera added fuel to the fire.
From there it was picked up by the Daily Mail in Great Britain and soon after the floodgates were shut wide open: The Telegraph, Le Figaro, Liberation, Pravda, Die Zeit, Il Messaggero, several South American, Australian, Turkish, Indian, Pakistani and Chinese newspapers run the same story. Bloggers in China and Taiwan had field days, particularly on December 3rd, with 4.5 million openings and 180.000 comments.
Tomorrow morning 5 December I’ll be at the BBC with Rico Hizon, broadcasting from Singapore, I have received an offer for documentary from Australia.

Well, now speaking about my book I can say that is nearly ready and that I have a sort of agreement with a Chinese publisher, not yet finalized, and I’ll have to translated it from English into Chinese but I am still looking for a serious publisher in Great Britain, or the USA and Australia. If you are interested in it, please, just send me an email and I’ll consider it.


6 December. I have received an offer from a serious English publisher…