45 pages 1 hour read

Sigmund Freud

The Uncanny

Nonfiction | Essay / Speech | Adult | Published in 1919

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Part 1, “Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood”Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Summary: Part 1, “Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood”

Freud opens his essay on the famous Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci by claiming that the psychical functioning of the most brilliant of people is equally as mysterious as that of the mentally-unwell patients with whom psychiatric research is normally concerned. With this, Freud embarks on a biography of da Vinci. During his early years, da Vinci had a great capacity for pleasure, and though he was amicable and pleasant, increased the sense of mystery around him with by exhibiting a retiring nature. Accusations of alchemy and witchcraft led da Vinci away from the arts and toward the sciences. Da Vinci had a habit of leaving paintings unfinished and was a slow worker. Though da Vinci produced an exceptional number of sketches, his inhibition was a “harbinger” of his latter retirement from painting, according to Freud.

Da Vinci was contradictory in other ways, too. While other artists promoted themselves aggressively, da Vinci was passive, and even a vegetarian. Yet he also designed weapons of war. Conflict during his lifetime is unremarked in his notes. Da Vinci also had an ascetic sexuality. A charge of unlawful homosexual practices was brought against him but ended with his acquittal. His apprentices were all handsome youths and the last became his heir.