"Leonardo da Vinci" by Sigmund Freud was a book which I bought at the local library in a sale. Every few months they clear books and sell them on at ridiculouly low prices. Amongst the stack of trashy novels and last year's annual books there are usually some real treats.
It took me a while to settle to read this book by Freud. I've read a lot of the works of Carl Jung. I did a PhD thesis which drew on the work of Jung (see here for an article from the thesis). In spite of the fact that Jung and Freud diverged hugely in their respective psychologies, I am also interested in the work of Freud. As ever, it is probably the middle ground which is the most interesting, rather than a simple "either / or" argument.
Freud's book on Leonardo da Vinci has an intriguing idea behind it. He sets out to carry out a psychoanalysis on Leonardo working only with the details of biography and the works that Leonardo left. This amounts to a significant amount of journal material as well as the paintings.
As ever with Freud, the book is beautifully written. The gist of his argument is that Leonardo was celibate and gay. Some of the arguments are stuck in their historical context. He makes some preposterous assertions about homosexuality - claiming that it can be caused by issues around bonding to parents. Ultimately the arguments put forward in the book lack coherence. They are just not entirely convincing. There is also an extended passage where Freud interprets a dream described by Leonardo in his journals, and draws some quite remarkable assertions. As so often with Freud, the sexual urge is given far too much emphasis.
However, even though the arguments don't stand up, I am intrigued by the basic idea that an analysis can be carried out on a figure based on secondary sources.
It probably doesn't make sense as a science, but as an art form I think it has endless possibilities.
So the book was well worth a read for the ideas it has generated even if it had shortcomings. I'm reminded of the early novels of Michael Ondaatje, particularly "The Collected Works of Billy the Kid" which combined fact and fiction really well. Many novelists have used this sort of technique.
It would be really interesting to see more of the interface between fiction and psychology in this setting.
Relocating - please follow the link for new content
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