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.
If a biographical effort really endeavors to penetrate the understanding of the psychic life of its hero it must not, as happens in most biographies through discretion or prudery, pass over in silence the sexual activity or the sex peculiarity of the one examined. What we know about it in Leonardo is very little but full of significance. In a period where there was a constant struggle between riotous licentiousness and gloomy asceticism, Leonardo presented an example of cool sexual rejection which one would not expect in an artist and a portrayer of feminine beauty. Solmi11 cites the following sentence from Leonardo showing his frigidity: "The act of procreation and everything that has any relation to it is so disgusting that human beings would soon die out if it were not a traditional custom and if there were no pretty faces and sensuous dispositions." His posthumous works which not only treat of die greatest scientific problems but also comprise the most guileless objects which to us do not seem wordiy of so great a mind (an allegorical natural history, animal fables, witticisms, prophecies )," are chaste to a degree-one might say abstinent—that in a work of belle lettres would excite wonder even to-day. They evade everything sexual so thoroughly, as if Eros alone who preserves everything living was no worthy material for the scientific impulse of the investigator.1" It is known how frequently great artists found pleasure in giving vent to their fantasies in erotic and even grossly obscene representations; in contradistinction to this Leonardo left only some anatomical drawings of the woman's internal genitals, the position of the child in the womb, etc. It is doubtful whether Leonardo ever embraced a woman in love, nor is it known that he ever entertained an intimate spiritual relation widi a woman as in die case of Michelangelo and Vittoria Colonna. While he still lived as an apprentice in the house of his master Verrocchio, he with other young men were accused of forbidden homosexual relations which ended in his acquittal. It seems that he came into this suspicion because he employed as a model a boy of evil repute.17 When he was a master he surrounded himself with handsome boys and youdis whom he took as pupils. The last of these pupils Francesco Melzi, accompanied him to France, remained with him until his death, and was named by him as his heir. Without sharing the certainty of his modern biographers, who naturally reject the possibility of a sexual relation between himself and his pupils as a baseless insult to this great man, it may be diought by far more probable diat the affectionate relationships of Leonardo to the young men did not result in sexual activity. Nor should one attribute to him a high measure of sexual activity.
The peculiarity of this emotional and sexual life viewed in connection with Leonardo's double nature as an artist and investigator can be grasped only in one way. Of the biographers to whom psychological viewpoints are often very foreign, only one, Edm. Solmi, has to my knowiedge approached the solution of die riddle. But a writer, Dimitri Sergewitsch Merejkowski, who selected Leonardo as the hero of a great historical novel has based his delineation on such an understanding of this unusual man, and if not in dry words he gave unmistakable utterance in plastic expression in the manner of a poet.18 Solmi judges Leonardo as follows: "But the unrequited desire to understand everything surrounding him, and with cold reflection to discover the deepest secret of everything that is perfect, has condemned Leonardo's works to remain forever unfinished."19 In an essay of the Conferenze Florentine the utterances of Leonardo are cited, which show his confession of faith and furnish die key to his character.
"Nessuna cosa si pud amare ne odiare, se prima no si ha cognition di quella. "la
That is: One has no right to love or to hate anything if one has not acquired a thorough knowiedge of its nature. And the same is repeated by Leonardo in a passage of die Treatise on die Art of Painting where he seems to defend himself against the accusation of ir-religiousness:
"But such censurers might better remain silent. For that action is the manner of showing the workmaster so many wonderful things, and this is the way to love so great a discoverer. For, verily great love springs from great knowledge of the beloved object, and if you little know it you will be able to love it only little or not at all."21
The value of these utterances of Leonardo cannot be found in diat diey impart to us an important psychological fact, for what they maintain is obviously false, and Leonardo must have known this as well as we do. It is not true diat people refrain from loving or hating until they have studied and became familiar widi the nature of the object to whom they wish to give these affects, on the contrary they love impulsively and are guided by emotional motives which have nodiing to do with cognition and wiiose affects are weakened, if anything, by thought and reflection. Leonardo only could have implied that the love practiced by people is not of die proper and unobjectionable kind, one should so love as to hold back the affect and to subject it to mental elaboration, and only after it has stood the test of the intellect should free play be given to it. And we thereby understand that he wishes to tell us diat diis was die case widi himself and diat it would be worth the effort of everybody else to treat love and hatred as he himself does.
And it seems that in his case it was really so. His affects were controlled and subjected to die investigation impulse, he neidler loved nor hated, but questioned himself whence does that arise, which he was to love or hate, and what does it signify, and thus he was at first forced to appear indifferent to good and evil, to beauty and ugliness. During this work of investigation love and hatred threw off their designs and uniformly changed into intellectual interest. As a matter of fact Leonardo was not dispassionate, he did not lack die divine spark which is die mediate or immediate motive power—ilprimo motore—oi all human activity. He only transmuted his passion into in-quisitiveness. He dien applied himself to study with that persistence, steadiness, and profundity which comes from passion, and on the height of the psychic work, after die cognition was won, he allowed the long checked affect to break loose and to flow off freely like a branch of a stream, after it has accomplished its work. At the height of his cognition when he could examine a big part of the whole he was seized with a feeling of pathos, and in ecstatic words he praised the grandeur of diat part of creation which he studied, or—in religious cloak—die greatness of the creator. Solmi has correctiy divined this process of transformation in Leonardo. According to die quotation of such a passage, in which Leonardo celebrated the higher impulse of nature ("Omirahilenecessita . . .') he said: "Tale trasligurazione della scienza della natura in emozione, quasi direi, religiosa, e uno del tratti caratteristici de manoscritti vinciani, e si trova cento e cento volte espressa. . . ."2i