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Jeniffer Harrison
Assignment 5 – Psychoanalysis
ARTH 351W

Assignment 5 – Psychoanalysis

In analyzing the article by Sigmund Freud, “Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His

Childhood” Freud attempts to interpret a “dream” Leonardo had as a young child. Freud’s

analysis of Leonardo’s dream is based on misinterpreted translations, Freud changing the

wording of Leonardo’s dream to suit his hypothesis, and Freud taking Leonardo’s childhood out

of context. Freud’s interpretation is invalid and contrived as is the majority of his information.

Freud introduces Leonardo’s dream at the beginning of the article. In this article he

interprets the word “nibo” to mean vulture. “Nibo” in fact means Kite. This is significant as

later in Freud’s analysis he justifies the reasoning for a vulture by introducing the possibility that

Leonardo incorporated the vulture into his dream at a later time in his life after becoming

familiar with the Egyptians use of vultures as a pictorial reference for “mother”. In the

footnotes on page 33 Freud admits to the error in translation offering instead that perhaps

Leonardo’s mother saw a bird near her child and considered it an important omen for her son,

therefore she would have recounted it on many occasions, hence incorporating it into Leonardo’s

memories. He concludes that this does not impact his basic account, however as mentioned

above the vulture in his first translation seemed of important significance to Freud’s reasoning.1

In the beginning of the article on page 32 Freud takes from Leonardo’s notebooks a one-

sentence passage, which is what Freud, calls his dream or phantasy. The importance of this

passage from his notebook is that it says “and struck me (the kite) many times with its tail

against my lips”.2 Freud rewords Leonardo’s dream on page 35-36 to say that “the situation in

the phantasy, of a vulture opening the child’s mouth and beating about inside it vigorously with

its tail, corresponds to the idea of fellatio…”3 This in fact was not any part of Leonardo’s dream
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Jeniffer Harrison
Assignment 5 – Psychoanalysis
ARTH 351W

as written in his notebook and was contrived to suit Freud’s hypothesis of homosexuality and the

act of fellatio.

Lastly, Freud took Leonardo’s childhood completely out of context and placed him and

his mother in a “solitary” context to suit his needs. The probability is not that the mother and

child would have been left in solitude, but rather they would have lived with extended family and

additional children. Additionally, Freud implies that by the time he had moved into his father’s

house at the approximate age of five it was too late as the damage was done (regarding life in

general and with his father).4 However, Leonardo contributed so much to the art world and the

world in general that he hardly seemed damaged.

In conclusion, Freud’s methodology is to analyze a single statement made by Leonardo in

his notebooks and place it into an assumed context. Freud founds his assumptions on everything

leading back to the sexual and no other avenues was explored in this article. Further, the

incorrect translation of the word “nibo” negated any relation of a possible influence from an

Egyptian pictorial reference, the dream was reworded by Freud to suit his hypothesis of fellatio

and homosexuality, and the context of Leonardo’s childhood was contrived. There is not one

shred of information to be found that is valid or pertinent with exception to a footnote on page 36

regarding that if in fact Leonardo had seen a Kite it may have drawn his attention because of the

virtuosity of its movements and Leonardo’s interest in flight.5

According to Sigmund Freud, the Oedipus Complex theorizes that the male child

has a desire to have sex with and claim rights to his mother and murder his father. As the child

develops he represses these desires, however even in normal males these feeling will arise again.

Most young boys will eventually abide by the laws of society otherwise they fear castration
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Jeniffer Harrison
Assignment 5 – Psychoanalysis
ARTH 351W

either physically or symbolically from their father figure.6 With this in mind one can infer from

the life of Sandro Botticelli that he had many “father” figures and two mothers, his biological

mother and Florence.

Botticelli, a rambunctious boy, was born the son of a tanner in Florence, 1444-5.

Botticelli was briefly trained to be a goldsmith, however realized an interest in painting and was

placed with Fra Fillippo Lippi as an apprentice.7 Lippi provided a father figure in which he could

perfect his art in an attempt to please his mother, Florence. In a relatively short amount of time

Botticelli had surpassed Lippi and symbolically castrated him rather than the father castrating the

son. Botticelli was one step closer to having Florence to himself.

Botticelli would soon find another surrogate father in his wealthy, influential patron,

Lorenzo De’ Medici. Under Lorenzo’s wing, Botticelli would have had access to the Medici

household and all the art it contained. Taking on Lorenzo as a father figure may have at first

been a way to fill the psychological void produced from the death of Botticelli’s biological

father. Additionally, Botticelli learned many humanistic philosophies from Lorenzo and

probably wished to please him in the beginning, but ultimately Lorenzo as a father was a means

to an end in achieving Florence for himself. In many ways the “gates” to Florence were opened

to Botticelli because of Lorenzo and the rest of the Medici family. Those same “gates” that were

opened by the Medici would be slammed shut with the death of Lorenzo and a new surrogate

father would take his place.8

After the death of his biological father, his symbolic castration of Lippi, and the death of

Lorenzo, Botticelli turned to a new father. A father he feared, the Dominican friar Giorlamo

Savonarola. Savonarola’s sermons pertaining to the cleansing of Florence must have appealed to
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Jeniffer Harrison
Assignment 5 – Psychoanalysis
ARTH 351W

Botticelli, as he never abandoned his mother city of Florence no matter what travesty occurred.

In fear of Savonarola’s wrath and in wanting his approval, Botticelli began painting in a new

style with new symbolisms, which were in accordance to what Savonarola’s sermons were

teaching. This effort to appease a father he was afraid of, but wished to please all at the same

time was in vain. Savonarola was hung, burned, and thrown into the river. Even after his death,

Botticelli never abandoned Florence, he however was overshadowed by the up and coming

painters and never maintained the relationship with his “mother”, Florence, he had always

wanted.9
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Jeniffer Harrison
Assignment 5 – Psychoanalysis
ARTH 351W

End Notes

1. Sigmund Freud, Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood, ed. and trans. James
Strachey (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.): 32-3.
2. Freud, Leonardo, 32.
3. Ibid., 35-6.
4. Ibid., 41-2.
5. Freud, Leonardo, 36.
6. Dinno Felluga, Introductory Guide to Critical Theory, Revised November 28, 2003,
http://www.cla.purdue.edu/english/theory/psychoanalysis/psychterms.html, 1 October 2008.
7. Charles Dempsey, Botticelli, Sandro (Filipepei, Alesando (di Mariano di Vanni)}, Oxford
Art online, 2008, http://oxfordartonline.com:80/subscriber/article/grove/art/T010385, 28 August
2008.
8. Dempsey, Botticelli.
9. Dempsey, Botticelli.
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Jeniffer Harrison
Assignment 5 – Psychoanalysis
ARTH 351W

Bibliography

Dempsey, Charles. Botticelli, Sandro (Filipepei, Alesando (di Mariano di Vanni)},


Oxford Art online, 2008,
http://oxfordartonline.com:80/subscriber/article/grove/art/T010385, 28 August
2008.

Felluga, Dinno. Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. Revised November 28, 2003.
http://www.cla.purdue.edu/english/theory/psychoanalysis/psychterms.html, 1
October 2008.