Leonardo da Vinci’s mother was a Caucasian slave, new research shows

ROME — Leonardo da Vinci is perhaps one of the most studied humans in history. And yet, one crucial detail about the Renaissance master has remained shrouded in mystery: who was his mother?

Now, new research claims to have an answer.

Da Vinci – the painter of the ‘Mona Lisa’ and symbol of Italian culture – was actually only half-Italian, according to the theory revealed on Tuesday, with his mother a slave from the Caucasus.

The research was unveiled at a press conference in Florence by Carlo Vecce, a scholar of Leonardo’s life and work, whose evidence will add new fuel to the fierce historical debate.

“I could not believe my eyes”

For centuries, as millions around the world admired his art and experts pored over his groundbreaking work in science, engineering and beyond, the exact identity of Leonardo’s mother made the subject of intense scrutiny and speculation.

Some details have been widely agreed upon: her name was Caterina and Leonardo was born in 1452 as the illegitimate product of her relationship with her father, a young Florentine notary named Ser Piero da Vinci.

Beyond that, theories abound.

Leonardo da Vinci’s manuscripts on display at Villa La Loggia in Florence on Tuesday. Marco Bertorello / AFP-Getty Images

Some scholars have suggested that Leonardo’s mother was a peasant, others an orphan, and others a slave from the Middle East or North Africa. Today, Vecce, one of the experts in Leonardo’s small group, says evidence shows she was a Circassian slave snatched from the North Caucasus region that is now part of southern Russia, near from the Black Sea coast.

The “smoking gun” among the previously unknown documents that Vecce claims to have found in the state archives in Florence is an act of liberation of a slave named Caterina by his mistress, Monna Ginevra, who was the wife of a “Florentine adventurer” who owned slaves from the Black Sea region.

The document was written by Ser Piero da Vinci, Leonardo’s father, and dated November 1452, when Leonardo would have been six months old.

“When I saw this document, I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Vecce told NBC News. “I never gave much credence to the theory that she was an alien slave. So I spent months trying to prove that the Caterina in this deed was not the mother of Leonardo, but in the end all the documents I found pointed in this direction, and I realized the obvious.”

“At the time, many slaves were called Caterina, but this was the only act of liberation of a slave named Caterina Ser Piero written in his entire long career,” Vecce said. “Furthermore, the document is full of small errors and omissions, a sign that he may have been nervous when he wrote it, because impregnating someone else’s slave was a crime. .

Carlo Vecce holds a copy of his book in Florence on Tuesday. Vecce is a specialist in the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci.Marco Bertorello / AFP-Getty Images

The findings form the basis of a new historical novel by Vecce titled “Il Sorriso di Caterina” (Caterina’s Smile). According to Giunti, the book’s publisher, 15th-century Black Sea slavery was a lucrative business for merchants from the powerful maritime republics of Venice and Genoa.

“In Florence, the market demanded above all young women, destined to serve as servants, nurses, as well as concubines – sexual slaves who, if impregnated, continued to be useful even after giving birth, providing their milk to the master’s children,” he added. said in a statement.

If Leonardo da Vinci’s legacy was only half-Italian, as research suggests, it would add a new layer to Leonardo’s rich legacy.

The Circassians are a predominantly Muslim ethnic group that lived in the northern Caucasus until the 19th century, when over a million people were forced to flee their homeland after Tsarist Russia invaded the region.

Circassians now live in almost 40 different countries around the world, including Turkey, Israel, Syria, Jordan and the United States.

“We can be sure of one thing,” according to the press release accompanying Tuesday’s search for Leonardo’s mystery mother. “It was she who instilled in him a respect and reverence for life and nature, and an inexhaustible desire for freedom.”

The research was unveiled at a press conference in Florence on Tuesday.Marco Bertorello / AFP-Getty Images

Until today, one of the most respected theories about Leonardo da Vinci’s mother came from Martin Kemp, another Leonardo expert and former professor of art history at Oxford University. in England.

In a 2017 book, Kemp concluded that Leonardo’s mother was Caterina di Meo Lippi, an orphan who lived on a farm about a mile from Vinci, the Tuscan village from which Leonardo was born and named.

From documents he found in Vinci’s archives, Kemp concluded that Caterina and her baby brother moved to her grandmother’s house near Vinci after their parents died. Shortly after, according to her theory, the former orphan became pregnant by 25-year-old Ser Piero da Vinci during one of his visits to his hometown in July 1451.

“Carlo Vecce is an excellent scholar. Her ‘fictional’ narrative needs the feel of a slave mother,” Kemp said in an interview on Tuesday. “I still prefer our ‘rural’ mother, who is a better fit, especially as the future wife of a local ‘farmer’,” he said.

“But a mundane story doesn’t fit the popular need for a sensational story in tune with today’s obsession with slavery.”

Yet at the end of the day, Kemp warns, “None of the stories are demonstrably proven.”

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