My revelation about the figure of Leonardo’s mother, possibly a Chinese slave or orta kataiorum that is ‘originating from China’ using the Latin of the notaries of the time, was what caused a media storm at the beginning of December 2014. I first announced my findings to Phil Whelan at Morning Brew Radio RTHK3 and then to the South China Morning Post.
My book Leonardo Da Vinci. A Chinese Scholar lost in Renaissance Italy is now on sale in Bookazine, here in Hong Kong and, for those willing to read it but who are not in Hong Kong, it is also available through ABE books, through my publishers, Lascar Publishing. Strictly speaking my book is not a biography dedicated to Leonardo’s mother, Caterina. But I can humbly claim to be offering some original and new theories concerning Leonardo Da Vinci’s life and works, even if I am always sticking to documents or, in absence of them, on credible evidence and logic. One of my views which is going against the current is about Leonardo Da Vinci’s father, Ser Piero Da Vinci, a thing that Sigmund Freud, in his 1910 essay Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of his Childhood had distinctly suspected.
In all existing biographies concerning Leonardo Da Vinci, the figure of his father, by profession a notary of the Florentine Republic, is generally seen in a positive light. But writing my book I came to the inescapable conclusion that he had been a very bad parent, a dishonest man and a crook who had only money, sex and power in sight. Further to this he did not care for his son, Leonardo, leaving him exposed to abuses and who never cared about fully legalized his position within the Da Vinci family.
The life of Leonardo Da Vinci remains a mystery to our days, in spite of the thousand of pages from his notebooks in our possession. Documents which tell us that he was born on 15 April 1452 in Vinci, Tuscany, out of wedlock and unwanted, the result of a casual sexual encounter between Ser Piero di Antonio Da Vinci – a successful notary of the Florentine Republic – and, almost certainly, a domestic slave girl called Caterina. Musing over the figure of Caterina, Italian historian Edmondo Solmi (1875–1912), wrote: ‘It seems that nature, after having produced the miracle, wanted to cover with an impenetrable veil the place and the human being which was an instrument for that wonderful effect.’ Subsequently Ser Piero acted as a matchmaker and arranged for Caterina to wed one of his handymen: Antonio di Pietro del Vaccha d’Andrea Buti, nicknamed Acchattabriga. It is therefore reasonable to assume that Leonardo spent his youth close to his mother and adoptive father in their house at Campo Zeppi, on the outskirts of Vinci, rather than in Florence, where his aloof father was pursuing his highly successful legal career.