Leonardo Da Vinci. A Chinese Scholar Lost in Renaissance Italy Lascar Publising, 2015.
A grandson was born to me, son of Ser Piero my son on 15 April, Saturday, at three in the night. He was named Leonardo. Was baptised by the priest Piero di Bartolomeo da Vinci.
This is the initial part of a dramatic note written by Leonardo Da Vinci’s grandfather, Antonio Da Vinci, found by the German historian, Emil Moller, in 1933 on a logbook belonging to the Da Vinci’s family. Here are Antonio’s words in ancient Tuscan and in a complete form:
1452. Nachue un mio nipote, figliuolo di ser Pietro mio figliuolo, adi’ 15 d’aprile in sabato, a ore 3 di notte. Ebbe nome Lionardo. Batezollo pietre Piero di Bartolomeo da Vincci, Papino di Nanni Bannti, Meo di Tonino, Piero di Malvoltto, Nanni di Renzo, Arigho di Giovanni Tedescho, monna Lisa di di Domenichi di Brettone, monna Antonia di Giuliano, monna Niccholosa del Barna, mona Maria, figliuola di Nanni di Renzo, monna Pippa di [Nanni di Lorenzo – these two words cancelled] di Previchone.
This note is very important because confirms the birth of Leonardo Da Vinci in the year 1452 and furthermore it reveals the day of his birth, 15th of April, as well as the hour. His mother, Caterina and his father, Ser Piero (probably absent) were not mentioned.
It is, after all, a reminder of how little we know about Leonardo and how easy is for historians to misunderstand facts, and here I explain what I mean. In most biographies dedicated to Leonardo published after 1938 – the year Emil Möller made public his great finding – we read that Leonardo was born on the 15th of April at 3 of the night, which stands for 3 in the morning.
This is wrong because, during the Renaissance, when someone wrote ‘3 of the night’ he actually meant something different. Following the calculation system used at that time the beginning of a new day was set when, in the evening, the bells of the Ave Maria tolled. It is a system which disappeared only after the French Revolution.
On April 15, the sunset in Vinci was at around 6.50 pm, and half an hour later the bells of the church tolled. From there, one should count three hours, getting to around 22.20 pm. Furthermore and because of this Leonardo’s birth date, strictly speaking, should be regard the day as April 14th, at 22:20 p.m. Even if, for simplicity sake, it is better to leave things as they stand otherwise most of historical dates should be re-adjusted.
An example – which has no weight for Leonardo’s birthdate – it is the fact that in Florence, like in several other cities in Europe, the first day of the year was not January 1st but actually the day of the Feast of the Annunciation by an Angel to Mary that is ab incarnatione on March 25. Therefore when we read that something happened in Florence, say on the 20 February 1501, the real date was 20 February 1502, following our calendar.