Leonardo da Vinci, A Memory of His Childhood

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Leonardo da Vinci, A Memory of His Childhood
The German edition
AuthorSigmund Freud
Original titleEine Kindheitserinnerung des Leonardo da Vinci
SubjectLeonardo da Vinci
TextLeonardo da Vinci, A Memory of His Childhood at Wikisource

Leonardo da Vinci and A Memory of His Childhood (German: Eine Kindheitserinnerung des Leonardo da Vinci) is a 1910 essay by Sigmund Freud about Leonardo da Vinci. It consists of a psychoanalytic study of Leonardo's life based on his paintings.

The vulture fantasy[edit]

In the Codex Atlanticus Leonardo recounts being attacked as an infant in his crib by a bird. Freud cites the passage as:[1]

It seems that it had been destined before that I should occupy myself so thoroughly with the vulture, for it comes to my mind as a very early memory, when I was still in the cradle, a vulture came down to me, he opened my mouth with his tail and struck me a few times with his tail against my lips.

According to Freud, this was a childhood fantasy based on the memory of sucking his mother's nipple. He backed up his claim with the fact that Egyptian hieroglyphs represent the mother as a vulture, because the Egyptians believed that there are no male vultures and that the females of the species are impregnated by the wind. In most representations the vulture-headed maternal deity was formed by the Egyptians in a phallic manner, her body which was distinguished as feminine by its breasts also bore the penis in a state of erection.[2]

However, the translation "Geier" (vulture), which Maria Herzfeld had used for "nibbio" in 1904 in the first edition of her book Leonardo da Vinci, der Denker, Forscher und Poet,[3] was not exactly the kite Leonardo da Vinci had meant: a small hawk-like bird of prey, common in the Vinci area, which is occasionally a scavenger. This disappointed Freud because, as he confessed to Lou Andreas-Salomé in a letter of 9 February 1919, he regarded the Leonardo essay as "the only beautiful thing I have ever written".[4] The psychologist Erich Neumann, writing in Art and the Creative Unconscious, attempted to repair the theory by incorporating the kite.[citation needed]

Interpretation of The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne[edit]

Another theory proposed by Freud attempts to explain Leonardo's fondness of depicting the Virgin Mary with Saint Anne in the picture The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne. Leonardo, who was illegitimate, was raised by his blood mother initially before being "adopted" by the wife of his father Ser Piero. The idea of depicting the Mother of God with her own mother was therefore particularly close to Leonardo's heart, because he, in a sense, had 'two mothers' himself. It is worth noting that in both versions of the composition (the Louvre painting and the London cartoon) it is hard to discern whether Saint Anne is a full generation older than Mary. Freud also points out that, in the painting, the outline of a vulture can be seen. This is connected to the original fantasy involving the vulture in Leonardo da Vinci's crib.

Sources cited[edit]

  1. ^ translated by Abraham Brill 1916, chapter II at bartleby.com. Freud's original German (p. 21 archive.org): "Es scheint, daß es mir schon vorher bestimmt war, mich so gründlich mit dem Geier zu befassen, denn es kommt mir als eine ganz frühe Erinnerung in den Sinn, als ich noch in der Wiege lag, ist ein Geier zu mir herabgekommen, hat mir den Mund mit seinem Schwanz geöffnet und viele Male mit diesem seinen Schwanz gegen meine Lippen gestoßen." – Note 2: "Questo scriver si distintamente del nibio par che sia mio destino, perchè nella mia prima ricordatione della mia infantia e' mi parea che, essendo io in culla, che un nibio venissi a me e mi aprissi la bocca colla sua coda e molte volte mi percuotesse con tal coda dentro alle labbra." (Cod. atlant., F. 65 V. nach Scognamiglio.). Cf. Nino Smiraglia Scognamiglio: Ricerche e documenti sulla giovinezza di Leonardo da Vinci, Naples, 1900, capitulo II.1. p. 22
  2. ^ Chapter III of Leonardo da Vinci: a psychosexual study of an infantile reminiscence, by Sigmund Freud; translated by A. A. Brill. http://www.bartleby.com/277/3.html
  3. ^ p. cxv books.google
  4. ^ "der Leonardo, das einzig Schöne, das ich je geschrieben, bereitet sich jetzt zur zweiten Auflage." Sigmund Freud–Lou Andreas-Salome – Briefwechsel, edited by Ernst Pfeiffer. S. Fischer Frankfurt/Main 1966, p. 100 books.google

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Wayne Andersen. "Leonardo da Vinci and the Slip of Fools". History of European Ideas, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 61–78, 1994.
  • Wayne Andersen. Freud, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Vulture's Tail, A Refreshing Look at Leonardo's Sexuality. Other Press, New York. 2001.
  • The full text of Leonardo da Vinci: a Psychosexual Study of an Infantile Reminiscence at Wikisource
  • Sigmund Freud. "Eine Kindheitserinnerung des Leonardo da Vinci (1910)." Studienausgabe. Vol. 10: Bildende Kunst und Literatur. pp. 87–160, Frankfurt/Main 1969.
  • Freud, Sigmund (1989). James Strachey (ed.). Leonardo da Vinci and a memory of his childhood. Translated by Alan Tyson. biographical introduction by Peter Gay (reprint ed.). New York: Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-00149-5.
  • Schapiro, Meyer (April 1956). "Leonardo and Freud: An Art-Historical Study". Journal of the History of Ideas. 17 (2): 147–178. doi:10.2307/2707740. JSTOR 2707740.