Leonardo Da Vinci, regarded by many as the greatest genius of the Renaissance, was the son of a humble slave girl and had at least 21 half-siblings, according to compelling new evidence unveiled in Florence, Italy, on Wednesday.Newly discovered documents published in two books (”Was Leonardo’s Mother a Slave?” and “Leonardo’s Family Tree,” both edited by da Vinci scholars Agnese Sabato and Alessandro Vezzosi) have made it possible to reconstruct da Vinci’s little-known family tree.

“Da Vinci’s family was indeed a large one. His father Piero married not his mother, but four other women. His mother Caterina was married off to another man and had five children of her own. That’s what you would call an enlarged family,” Alessandro Vezzosi, director of the Museo Ideale in the Tuscan town of Vinci, told Discovery News.

Very little has been known about da Vinci’s mother and the circumstances of his birth. The only account dates to a 1457 tax record in which the artist’s grandfather listed the members of his family and briefly described his grandson:

“Lionardo, aged 5, the illegitimate child of Ser Piero and Caterina, who at present is married to Acchattabriga di Piero del Vaccha da Vinci.”

Beyond this, scholars had very little to go on. While Ser Piero was easily identified as a Florentine notary, nothing was known about Caterina. As legend has it, she was a peasant girl from Vinci.

Now, 30-year-old research conducted by the late director of the Leonardo Library, published by his son Francesco, suggests a completely different scenario.

“Archival research has shown that there isn’t any Caterina in Vinci or nearby villages that can be linked to Ser Piero. The only Caterina in Piero’s life seems to be a slave girl who lived in the house of his wealthy friend Vanni di Niccolo di Ser Vanni,” Cianchi wrote.

Evidence for “the slave Caterina” comes from Vanni’s newly discovered will. The wealthy banker named his friend Ser Piero the executor of his will, and left most of his estate to a religious order. He left the slave girl to his wife Agnola and his Florentine house in via Ghibellina to Ser Piero.

“No official document for the liberation of Caterina exists, but something important must have happened at Vanni’s death in 1451,” Vezzosi said.

The man who would father Leonardo da Vinci did not move into his inherited home right away because Agnola, Vanni’s widow, still lived there. It’s likely, scholars now believe, that Ser Piero agreed to allow Agnola to remain in the house until she died in exchange for the slave girl Caterina’s freedom.

Indeed, records show that Agnola hired a new servant after Vanni’s death.

Meanwhile, no trace exists of the slave girl after 1451; she simply disappeared from documents. According to Cianchi’s research, Ser Piero did not move into his inherited house until Agnola’s death, but there are no records of other inhabitants in the home.

A few months later, on April 15, 1452, Leonardo was born in Vinci. It is known that his mother Caterina married Acchattabriga di Piero del Vaccha da Vinci only a few months after she gave birth.

“The hypothesis that it is the same Caterina that lived in Vanni’s house is very strong,” Vezzosi said.

The claim is supported by recent research suggesting the Italian genius was of Arabic descent, following analysis of his fingerprint.

“It was common in Renaissance Florence to own slaves from the Middle East and the Balkans. At the time of Leonardo’s birth there were more than 550 slaves in Florence, meaning that all the wealthy families had slaves in their houses. The girls were baptized and renamed. The most popular names were Maria, Marta and Caterina,” Agnese Sabato said.

If little is known about Caterina’s life — except that her husband might have had a temper (the name Acchattabriga means “ready to pick a quarrel” ) — researchers have been able to draw a much clearer picture about the private life of Ser Piero.

“Documents tell us that just after Leonardo’s birth, Ser Piero, who was about 26 years old, married a young girl named Albiera Amadori. He then married other three times,” Elisabetta Ulivi, author of the book on da Vinci’s family tree, said.

Ser Piero had at least 16 children — eight of whom were born in the last 20 years of his life.

Da Vinci seemed to have had a difficult relationship with his half-sisters and brothers.

“Many of Leonardo’s travels to Florence were indeed associated with family issues. He had several fights related to money and inheritance,” Vezzosi said.

[Via - Discovery News]

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