What was Sigmund Freud's analysis of the works of Leonardo da Vinci?
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Freud drew a number of conclusions about Leonardo from his paintings, as well as his writings. He was particularly struck by what he viewed as a homoerotic "vulture phantasy" mentioned by the artist in one of his notebooks. Leonardo wrote that he had a memory from his infancy where a vulture flew in and hit him on the lips with his tail. Drawing a parallel between this memory, the desire to perform fellatio, and the memory of nursing, he used it to suggest that Leonardo has managed to sublimate his homosexuality into his art. Rechanneled sexual energy was, according to Freud, on of the keys to his genius. in his essay "Leonardo Da Vinci and a Memory of his Childhood," published in 1910, he analyzed The Virgin and Child with St. Anne, in which the Virgin Mary, accompanied by her mother St. Anne, picks up the infant Christ, who is playing with a lamb. Detecting the outline of a vulture in Mary's clothing, Freud suggests that the painting depicts Leonardo's childhood. The point is further underscored by the fact that Leonardo's grandmother and his stepmother played a major role in his upbringing:
In his father’s home he found not only the kind step-mother Donna Albiera, but also the grandmother, his father’s mother, Monna Lucia, who we will assume was not less tender to him than grandmothers are wont to be. This circumstance must have furnished him with the facts for the representation of a childhood guarded by a mother and grandmother.
In this Mary, as well as some of the "androgynous" male figures that Leonardo painted, Freud argues, the artist:
...disavowed and artistically conquered the unhappiness of his love life, in that he represented the wish fulfillment of the boy infatuated with his mother in such blissful union of the male and female nature.
Freud also saw Freud's love for his mother, and the conflation of this love with his homosexuality, in the face of the Mona Lisa. The details of Freud's interpretations of these paintings are no longer widely accepted by art critics or psychologists. His evocation of the "vulture," for instance, is based on a flawed translation of the passage. The idea of "sublimation" of sexual energy into art has remained influential.
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