This section is from the book "Leonardo Da Vinci: A Psychosexual Study Of An Infantile Reminiscence", by Sigmund Freud. Also available from Amazon: Leonardo da Vinci: A Psychosexual Study of an Infantile Reminiscence.
However, if the imitation of his father hurt him as an artist, his resistance against the father was the infantile determinant of his perhaps equally vast accomplishment as an artist. According to Merejkowski's beautiful comparison he was like a man who awoke too early in the darkness, while the others were all still asleep. He dared utter this bold principle which contains die justification for all independent investigation: " Chi disputa allegando l'autorita non adopra l'ingegno ma piuttosto la memoria " (Whoever refers to authorities in disputing ideas, works with his memory rather than widi his reason).71 Thus he became the first modern natural philosopher, and his courage was rewarded by an abundance of cognitions and suggestions; since the Greek period he was the first to investigate the secrets of nature, relying entirely on his observation and his own judgment. But when he learned to depreciate authority and to reject the imitation of the "ancients" and constantly pointed to the study of nature as die source of all wisdom, he was only repeating in the highest degree of sublimation achievable by man, which had already obtruded itself on the little boy who surveyed the world with wonder. To retranslate the scientific abstractions into concrete individual experiences, we would say diat the "ancients" and authority only corresponded to die father, and nature again became the tender modier who nourished him. While in most human beings, to-day as in primitive times, the need for the support of some authority is so imperative that their world becomes shaky when the authority is menaced, Leonardo alone was able to exist without such support; but diat would not have been possible had he not been deprived of his father in the first years of his life. The boldness and independence of his later scientific investigation presupposes that his infantile sexual investigation was not inhibited by his father, and diis same spirit of scientific independence was continued by his withdrawing from sex.
When any one like Leonardo escapes his father's intimidation in his childhood and later throws off the shackles of authority in his scientific investigations, it would be a gross contradiction of our expectation if we found diat this same man remained a believer and unable to withdraw from dogmatic religion. Psychoanalysis has taught us the intimate connection between the father complex and belief in God, and daily demonstrates to us how youdiful persons lose their religious belief as soon as die authority of the fadier breaks down. In die parental complex we thus recognize the roots of religious need; die almighty, just God, and kindly nature appear to us as grand sublimations of father and mother, or rather as revivals and restorations of the infantile conceptions of both parents. Religiousness is biologically traceable to the long period of helplessness and need of help of the little child. When die child grows up and realizes his loneliness and weakness in the presence of die great forces of life, he perceives his condition as in childhood and seeks to disavow his despair dirough a regressive revival of the protecting forces of childhood.
It does not seem that Leonardo's life disproves diis conception of religious belief. Accusations charging him with irreligiousness, which in those times was equivalent to renouncing Christianity, were brought against him during his lifetime, and were clearly described in the first edition of Vasari's biography." In the second edition of his Vile (1568) Vasari left out this observation. In view of the extraordinary sensitiveness of his age in matters of religion it is perfectly comprehensible to us why Leonardo refrained from di-rectly expressing his position on Christianity in his notes. As an investigator he did not permit himself to be misled by the account of the creation of the holy scriptures. For instance, he disputed the possibility of a universal flood, and in geology he was as unhesitating in calculating in hundreds of thousands of years as modern investigators.
Among his "prophecies" one finds some things diat would perforce offend die sensitive feelings of a religious Christian, e.g. Praying to the images of Saints, reads as follows:76
"People talk to people who perceive nothing, who have open eyes and see nothing; they shall talk to them and receive no answer; they shall adore those who have ears and hear nothing; they shall burn lamps for those who do not see."
Or: Concerning mourning on Good Friday (p. 297):
"In all parts of Europe great peoples will bewail the death of one man who died in the Orient."
It was asserted of Leonardo's art diat he took away die last remnant of religious attachment from the holy figures and put diem into human form in order to depict in them great and beautiful human feelings. Muther praises him for having overcome die feeling of decadence, and for having returned to man die right of sensuality and pleasurable enjoyment. The notices which show Leonardo absorbed in fathoming the great riddles of nature do not lack any expressions of admiration for the creator, the last cause of all these wonderful secrets, but nothing indicates that he wished to hold any personal relation to this divine force. The sentences which contain the deep wisdom of his last years breadie die resignation of the man who subjects himself to the laws of nature and expects no alleviation from the kindness or grace of God. There is hardly any doubt diat Leonardo had vanquished dogmatic as well as personal religion, and that through his work of investigation he had withdrawn far from die worldview of the religious Christian.
From our views mentioned before in the development of the infantile psychic life, it becomes clear that Leonardo's first investigations in childhood also occupied themselves with the problems of sexuality. But he himself betrays it to us dirough a transparent veil, by connecting his impulse to investigate with the vulture fantasy, and by emphasizing die problem of the flight of the bird as one whose elaboration devolved upon him dirough special concatenations of fate. A very obscure as well as a prophetic-sounding passage in his notes dealing widi the flight of the bird demonstrates in the nicest way with how much affective interest he clung to the wish that he himself should be able to imitate the art of flying: "The human bird shall take his first flight, filling the world with amazement, all writings with his fame, and bringing eternal glory to the nest whence he sprang." He probably hoped that he himself would sometimes be able to fly, and we know from the wish-fulfilling dreams of people what bliss one expects from die fulfillment of this hope.