Leonardo’s Birthplace

Leonardo da Vinci was not born at his official birthplace in the village of Anchiano, the leading da Vinci scholar Martin Kemp said yesterday.

Professor Kemp, one of the top authorities on the artist, is working on a book on Da Vinci with the archive researcher Giuseppe Palanti.

He told an audience at the Edinburgh International Book Festival that documentation proved that the Mona Lisa was indeed a portrait of Lisa Gherardini,, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo.

“We now know who Leonardo’s mother is,” he added, then asked:    “Has anybody been to the Casa de Natale, the birthplace at Anchiano?”   When no one raised their hands he said:  “That’s probably a good thing.   It’s not his birthplace.”

Further details will await the publication of the book, he said.

While the revelation might meet with a shrug from art historians it is likely to come as a shock to the community of Anchiano. The place became a pilgrimage site for art lovers after being identified as his birthplace by scholars and in 2012 the building, just outside the town of Vinci, reopened after a major restoration with new displays.

The casa’s website notes that “The house, 3 km outside Vinci in a charming hilly landscape, is linked to the town by the Green Route, an ancient path which winds its way through the centuries-old olive groves of Montalbano.”  It offers the chance of “meeting da Vinci where it all began.”

Palanti has published several discoveries from his past work.   He has being doing further research in the archives of Vinci, tax returns, and other archives, said Professor Kemp.

A professor emeritus of art history at Oxford University, author of the Oxford University Press book Leonardo, Martin Kemp   is a world authority on da Vinci, on whom he has published numerous books and articles as well as curating major exhibitions.  His work is cited in the Louvre’s website  entry for the Mona Lisa.

The demand for reviews left little room for the kind of research which Palanti undertook, that could mean “five years looking for documents that don’t exist”, Professor Kemp said. “No academic would do that now it’s too slow.”

“He’s got masses of new material about the Mona Lisa, about Lisa del Giocondo, about her family, about her husband Francesco, Leonardo’s father and his relationship with the commissioner of the painting.”

Lisa del Giocondo’s surname explains why the painting is also called La Gioconda.

In the partnership on the book,   “I’m interested in a document on this or that and he spends his life in the archives. But he doesn’t have the kind of art historical context,” said Professor Kemp.

He was asked why there has always been so much speculation around the identity of the Mona Lisa.

”The idea that she was a bourgeois Florentine woman, the wife of a not very reputable silk merchant and money lender who was a social climber in florence, a woman of decent character, doesn’t seem to be enough. You need it to be more exceptional.

While admitting there are gaps in the historical record on the Louvre painting,   “if it wasn’t such an imporant painting the provenance would be clear, it’s Lisa del Giocondo, Lisa Gherardini from a classic family, old aristocracy marrying into new money. If it wasn’t such a momentous picture, people would be happy with that, it’s just that they think there must be something more, a more abstract subject.

“I believe the picture got abstracted from being a portrait into something bigger and more philosophical but it remained a portrait of her. ”