45 pages 1 hour read

Sigmund Freud

The Uncanny

Nonfiction | Essay / Speech | Adult | Published in 1919

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Part 6, “Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood”Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Summary: Part 6, “Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood”

The conclusion of Freud’s examination of da Vinci’s character opens with some self-aware reflections about the act of biography, which often, Freud claims, amount to the idealization of the figure with whom the biographer identifies. Freud argues that this can “forfeit the opportunity to penetrate the most fascinating secrets of human nature” (100). Freud identifies da Vinci as an obsessional neurotic, defining neurotic symptoms as “[s]ubstitution structures that compensate for certain repressions that are inevitable in our passage from infancy to civilized adulthood” (100).

Da Vinci’s illegitimacy and intense erotic connection with his mother produced early and strong infantile sexual researches, followed by equally strong repression, which resulted in an aversion to sensual activity. Most of his sexual curiosity was sublimated into his thirst for knowledge, with the remainder manifesting as an idealized love for boys. Da Vinci’s sexual desires found an outlet in his art. Da Vinci also found a “father substitute in Duke Ludo il Moro”, and the loss of this patron reignited da Vinci’s childhood fatherlessness and contributed to his impatience with painting (102).

The most potent force in the formation of da Vinci’s character was his illegitimacy and his mother’s consequent “excessive tenderness” (104). Though psychoanalysis cannot explain the source of da Vinci’s brilliance, it can inform our understanding of the shape and limitations of that genius.