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Freud’s Leonardo

Kim, Jin Yup 1

1서울대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

Throughout the book of A Childhood Reminiscence of Leonardo Da Vinci, Freud introduces his psycho-analysis on Leonardo’s personality. Freud focuses on analyzing Leonardo’s childhood dream or fantasy of the vulture. According to Freud, Leonardo’s vulture dream reflects Leonardo’s childhood as an illegitimate son who brought up without the father’s presence. While Freud substitutes the vulture for the mother based on Egyptian hieroglyphic writing, the vulture becomes a representation of Leonardo’s erotic affection for his mother. As Leonardo grew up, the subject for Leonardo’s affection eventually shifted from his mother to homosexuality. Considering Freud’s analysis of the vulture’s tail as a phallic symbol which replaces mother’s breast, the vulture’s action of hitting Leonardo’s mouth with its tail becomes a sign which symbolizes homosexuality. Leonardo being adopted by his father is another important incident in Leonardo’s childhood. After the adoption, the sudden presence of the father interrupts Leonardo’s erotic affection for his natural mother. As Leonardo grew up under his father and stepmother, Leonardo transformed his libido (sexual energy) into an energy which led him to create art works and observe natural phenomenon. In order to show the impact of his childhood memories on Leonardo’s paintings and inventions, Freud introduces the analysis on St. Anne with Mary and the infant Christ and Leonardo’s interest in inventing a flying machine. However, Meyer Schapiro argues that Freud’s reconstruction of Leonardo’s childhood contains historical errors and misinformation. According to Schapiro, Freud used mistranslation: ‘nibio’ should be translated into a kite, not a vulture. Also, the historical record of Leonardo’s birth appears insufficient to support Freud’s reconstruction of Leonardo’s lonely childhood separated from his relatives and father. Furthermore, Schapiro offers a different analysis of Leonardo’s vulture dream. While Freud’s interpretation of the vulture’s phallic tail in the child’s mouth represents Leonardo’s homosexuality, Schapiro argues that interactions between animals and mythical figures often symbolize figures’ talents. Despite Freud and Schapiro suggest different interpretations of Leonardo’s vulture dream, both of them recognize the fact that Leonardo’s childhood had a subconscious impact on not only Leonardo’s works but also his personality. Although Schapiro points out that Freud’s use of mistranslation and reconstruction of Leonardo’s childhood need corrections, Freud’s psychological analysis remains largely unaffected by such mistakes. Apart from detailed reconstruction of history, both Freud’s psycho-analytic theory and Schapiro’s historical research contribute on understanding Leonardo’s personality and his art works from various perspectives.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.