Anew contribution has been made to the ongoing debate about the identity of Leonardo da Vinci’s mother by an Italian scholar and novelist, who has presented a recently discovered document as evidence that she was an enslaved person from the Caucasus region of Central Asia who arrived on the Italian peninsula.
Carlo Vecce, an Italian literature professor at the University of Naples L’Orientale, has revealed his theory in a new novel, “Il Sorriso di Caterina,” or “Caterina’s Smile.” He based his claim on a document discovered in the State Archives in Florence that granted freedom to a girl named Caterina.
Leonardo’s father notarized the record six months after the birth of the Renaissance genius, who went on to paint masterpieces, including the “Mona Lisa.”
Vecce initially intended to prove that Leonardo’s mother was not an enslaved person from the East, one long-held theory. “But when the evidence goes in the other direction, one must pay attention,” he said.
He said he put his research in a novel, not a scholarly text because he felt an urgency to share his theory with a broader public. “I could joke that no one reads a book with footnotes and a bibliography,” the author added.
Martin Kemp, an Oxford University art history professor emeritus, co-wrote a 2017 book identifying Leonardo’s mother as Caterina di Meo Lippi, a 15-year-old orphan. However, he said he continued to favor the theory that the girl who gave birth to the masterpiece painter and inventor was a “rural mother.”
“There have been several claims that Leonardo’s mother was a slave,” Kemp said in a statement from The Associated Press (AP). “This fits the need to find something exceptional and exotic in Leonardo’s background, and a link to slavery fits with current obsessions.”
The art historian suggested the document may not be conclusive.
According to Kemp, Leonardo’s grandfather said his mother’s name was Caterina. Caterina was a common name given to enslaved people when they were forced to convert to Christianity, and the husband of the woman who freed the girl in Vecce’s document traded two enslaved people with that name in one year, Kemp said.
Kemp praised Vecce’s scholarly work and expressed surprise that the Italian professor published his findings as a fictionalized account.