Washington, April 10 : Newly discovered evidence suggests that the greatest genius of the Renaissance, Leonardo Da Vinci, was the son of a slave girl, and had at least 21 half-siblings.
The documents unveiled in Florence, Italy, on Wednesday have made it possible to reconstruct da Vinci's little-known family tree.
Two books titled 'Was Leonardo's Mother a Slave?' and 'Leonardo's Family Tree', both edited by da Vinci scholars Agnese Sabato and Alessandro Vezzosi, carry the compelling documents.
"Da Vinci's family was indeed a large one. His father Piero married not his mother, but four other women. His mother Caterina was married off to another man and had five children of her own. That's what you would call an enlarged family," Discovery News quoted Alessandro Vezzosi, director of the Museo Ideale in the Tuscan town of Vinci, as saying.
While Ser Piero was identified as a Florentine notary, nothing was known about Caterina.
A 1457 tax record is the only statement in which the artist's grandfather listed the members of his family, and briefly described his grandson as: "Lionardo, aged 5, the illegitimate child of Ser Piero and Caterina, who at present is married to Acchattabriga di Piero del Vaccha da Vinci."
Now, a 30-year-old study carried out by the late director of the Leonardo Library, Cianchi, suggests a completely different scenario.
The documents published by his son Francesco state: "Archival research has shown that there isn't any Caterina in Vinci or nearby villages that can be linked to Ser Piero. The only Caterina in Piero's life seems to be a slave girl who lived in the house of his wealthy friend Vanni di Niccolo di Ser Vanni."
A significant part of the evidence depicting Caterina as a slave is the newly discovered will of Vanni. He named his friend Ser Piero the executor of his will, left the slave girl to his wife Agnola, and his Florentine house in via Ghibellina to Ser Piero.
"No official document for the liberation of Caterina exists, but something important must have happened at Vanni's death in 1451," Vezzosi said.
Scholars believe that Ser Piero might have agreed to allow Vanni's widow Agnola to remain in the house until she died in exchange for the slave girl Caterina's freedom, with records showing that Agnola hired a new servant after her husband's death.
It is kown that a few months after Leonardo's birth on April 15, 1452, his mother married Acchattabriga di Piero del Vaccha da Vinci.
"The hypothesis that it is the same Caterina that lived in Vanni's house is very strong," Vezzosi said.
The documents also suggest that Ser Piero had at least 16 children, eight of whom were born in the last 20 years of his life. They also suggest that Da Vinci seemed to have had a difficult relationship with his half-sisters and brothers.
"Many of Leonardo's travels to Florence were indeed associated with family issues. He had several fights related to money and inheritance," Vezzosi said.