Despite being one of the world’s most famous artists, some facts about Leonardo da Vinci’s life remain shrouded in mystery. One major question regarding the prolific painter and original Renaissance man is the identity of his mother. Now, a prominent art historian believes he may have solved this mystery regarding da Vinci’s parentage.
We have always known that Leonardo’s mother’s name was Caterina, but other than we knew little about her. There has even been speculation that she was a North African slave. Using previously overlooked documents, art historian and da Vinci expert Professor Martin Kemp of Oxford University has revealed that many of these speculations were false.
According to this newly analyzed evidence, Leonardo’s mother was Caterina di Meo Lippi, a poor peasant orphan who was only 15 when she became pregnant with the future artist. She had been living with her grandmother in a remote village in Tuscany when she was seduced by a 25-year-old lawyer named Ser Piero da Vinci.
Leonardo was born when his mother was 16, on April 14, 1452. Caterina was living with an aunt and uncle at this time and would have been in dire straits since being unmarried, pregnant, and poor were about as socially low as you could get in those days.
Even though he was illegitimate, he was probably brought up by his paternal grandfather. Professor Kemp drew this conclusion after studying the tax records of the senior da Vinci, which stated that an illegitimate son was living in his house. If this is correct, then Leonardo da Vinci was raised in good circumstances, since his father’s family was prosperous. It appears that his father acknowledged Leonardo as his son, too, since he was allowed to call himself Leonardo di Ser Piero da Vinci, which indicated his father’s identity.
Leonardo’s mother eventually married a farmer named Antonio di Piero Buti, and she went on to have at least five more children. Ser Piero also married someone else, likely someone of his own social standing.
This research has also resulted in a slightly funny conundrum for Leonardo-loving tourists. If the artist was raised with his paternal grandfather, then these tourists who have been visiting the supposed birthplace of Leonardo, the Casa Natale in Anchiano, have been going to the wrong place. Kemp believes Leonardo da Vinci was actually born in his paternal grandfather’s home, which is the same place he grew up.
Sadly, a great deal of money has been spent turning the Casa Natale into a major tourist attraction. There is no word yet as to what will be done to the site if it turns out that Kemp’s theories are true.