The Loneliness of Geniality, Case Study Example
Words: 3483Case Study
In human history, many prominent figures contributed to the evolution of human civilization. Some are known for their achievements, while the others for their notorious lifestyle. On the other hand, there are those are known very well for their works, yet their personality remains a secret. The aim of this paper is to analyze the personality of Leonardo Da Vinci based on his biography in terms of two theories. The chosen theories are Freud’s psychoanalysis and Adler’s birth order theory.
Key words: Leonardo Da Vinci, psychoanalysis, birth order theory, Freud, Adler.
The Loneliness of Geniality
In the history of human civilization, many prominent figures have contributed to the evolution of humanity. However, very few are known for their achievements. On the other hand, some are known very well for their works yet remain unknown from the personality perspective. The aim of this paper is to analyze the personality of Leonardo Da Vinci based on his biography in terms of two theories. The chosen theories are Freud’s psychoanalysis and Adler’s birth order theory.
Adler’s Birth Order Theory
Leonardo Da Vinci’s personality was characterized by curiosity, open-mindedness, caring attitude to the young and weaker people, the sense of responsibility and generosity. He considered that animals and human being have equal rights as being creatures of the nature. He was known for his compassion and understanding of suffering of other people. He also praised intelligence and talent more than any other virtues (Nicholl, 2005). In this regard, various traits of his personality can be explained in terms of Adler’s Birth order theory. The connection between Leonardo’s personality features and corresponding explanations of the theory are demonstrated by the following examples.
Leonardo was extremely supportive and tolerating to his pupils. Although one of his students Gian Giacomo was not a very honest person and thief, Leonardo still treated him as a member of family and helped when he need financial or any other support (Nicholl, 2005). On the other hand, another student who spent half of his life in Leonardo’s workshop gained Leonardo’s inheritance after his death (Nicholl, 2005). In terms of the Adler’s order of birth theory, Leonardo’s generosity and responsibility for his students are conditioned by the fact that he was the eldest son in the family, followed by seven more children. Thus, from an early age he learned the sense of responsibility for the younger siblings (Ernst & Angst, 1983). On the other hand, Leonardo could never relate to anyone intimately. He considered the idea of procreation and having a family as disgusting one and nothing he would want to achieve in his life (Nicholl, 2005).
His personality trait is related to the social aspect of birth order and age difference between brothers, meaning that Leonardo had developed the sense of being dethroned in a dual manner (Krohn, 2000). When the next brother in order was born, he lost the privilege of being the only child who got all of the attention from his father and a stepmother, which is the classic case of the elder siblings. However, the second dethroning was social, since Leonardo’s position was also questions in terms of legitimacy of his birth (Ernst & Angst, 1983). Consequently, as a first-born, he developed such features of character as perfectionism, the necessity of affirmation which were further demonstrated in his artworks and demanding attitude to his pupils (Nicholl, 2005). However, since he was alienated in his own family due to the illegitimate nature of his birth right and the fact that his brothers viewed him only as a rival for father’s inheritance, Leonardo considered family being an irrelevant social construction. In this case, it can be argued that the feelings he could not apply to his brothers were further reflected in this attitude to his students, who became his family (Schultz, 2012).
Leonardo was characterized by a very strong self-esteem and the ability to control the situation irrespective of the circumstances. He believed in his strengths. The best example of these features was when Leonardo sent his resume to Ludovico Sforza, suggesting in a very humble manner that there is virtually no civil or military construction he would not be able to build (Nicholl, 2005). In this regard, Leonardo demonstrates another feature of a first-born – dominance in a social environment and self-confidence in relations with people of power and control. With people of power the elder children tend to act in straight manner since they consider themselves being in the same position by the birth right legal or not, they are the first-born (Robinson, 2007). On the other hand, Leonardo’s humbleness and equal treatment of all people, which was demonstrated in the diversity of friends from different social classes, were conditioned exactly by his alienation in his own family and the lack of legitimate place in that family. Therefore, in order to demonstrate his higher competitiveness in contrast to his brothers, he consciously decided to oppose their lifestyle and their values and succeed in the field were his brothers could not complete – art and intelligence (Carducci, 2009). Thus, another reason for his perfectionism is a subconscious desire to demonstrate how different he is to them and how superior he is (Egler, 2013).
Leonardo was also characterized by the constant feeling of loneliness and not belonging to any group, which further developed into complete devotion to art. He could spend days on single idea or painting without food or rest (Nicholl 2005). The world of art and intellectual activity created in his mind and then reflected reality was the place he truly belonged (Robinson, 2007). In terms of Adler’s theory, this alienation is coming from his alienation in his family and the lost connection with his brothers. However, the fact that the first few years of his life Leonardo lived with his birth mother, a peasant, Caterina, suggests that Leonardo might also have traits of a single child, who was loved and cherished by his mother and who was taken away from her into another family where he did not belong from the very beginning, and where he became redundant when the legitimate children were born (Nicholl, 2005). In this context, Leonardo could not relate to the new family, since there was no affection for him to start with. He developed the sense of being different and alone in a big family, which was a stimulus to move on and build his life on his own. This feeling of alienation and solitude motivated him to devote himself to his work, the place he belonged (Carducci, 2009).
The allegations of Leonardo’s homosexual relationship with one of his models Jacopo Saltarelli, the lack of any mentioning of his intimate life or affections, and the aversion to sexual intercourse suggest that he could not commit to any inert-personal relationship, because he had lost trust in family values in his childhood being toyed by his father as support plan in the case he would not have any other heirs to his fortune (Robinson, 2007). In this regard, although Adler’s theory concentrates mainly on the birth order, it also outlines that the relationship with parents according to this order is crucial (Krohn, 2000). In the case of Leonardo, his potential homosexuality or asexuality can be explained by the manipulative nature of his relations with his father. By taking him from his mother and depriving him of the status of a single child, his father broke the heterosexual bond between mother and child; then when he deprived Leonardo of the status of a legitimate heir, he destroyed the child’s ability of self-identification with his father and family bonds (Krohn, 2000). Thus, the feeling of individualism and own path was shaped very early and dominated the rest of Leonardo’s maturation, in which sexuality simply had to place, since it would mean being filthy and lustful like his father, which Leonardo would avoid at any cost (Slavik & Carlson, 2006).
Freud’s Psychoanalytical Perspective
In his time, Freud has written a work on Leonardo’s sexuality, outlining that he was homosexual due to the unfulfilled desires to his mother and the traumatic experience of their separation (Freud, 2003). Although this work was largely debated by scholars, in terms of this research attention is paid to how Freud’s psychoanalysis can explain the traits in Leonardo’s personality and character development.
Leonardo managed to devote his life to art and science only because he knew how to deal with power to gain patronage of most powerful people of the time including Medici family, Cesare Borgia, the king of France Francis I (Nicholl, 2005). This suggests the strengths of one’s character and intelligence of being honored and favored by so many people. On the other hand, in terms of Freudian perspective this social and success of the logical mind is conditioned by Leonardo’s subconscious desire to receive his father’s approval and patronage (Carducci, 2009). In this regard, the childhood conflict with father and the reluctance of Antonio da Vinci to pay any attention to his son made Leonardo succeed and gain support of all those powerful men in order to demonstrate his worth and prove his father wrong. It would also be a subconscious desire to fulfill child’s necessity to compete with his siblings and demonstrate his self-worth and legitimacy of his status in their eyes (Carducci, 2009). After all, success is the main feature of a winner.
From Freud’s perspective, Leonardo’s reluctance to get married and aversion to a sexual act was conditioned by potential childhood trauma. In his interpretation of Leonardo’s childhood memories, Freud suggested that as a child Leonardo might have been sexually abused which has killed his own sexual desires (Freud 2003). In this regard, it can be argued that Leonardo’s id and any animalistic or sexual desires were suppressed in a very early stage, which gave rise to the dominance of ego (personal I) and super-ego (socially-prescribed goodness and morality), which Leonardo followed (Carducci, 2009). The inability to mature in a sexual sense was substituted by the extraordinary self-improvement in social and personal spheres. This can explain the popularity of Leonardo among various people and his human approach to all living creatures and his vegetarian diet (Nicholl, 2005).
On the other hand, Leonardo’s personality as characterized both by creativity of an artist and logic of scientist, which was demonstrated through his work and successful political maneuvers that secured his survival and favorable position from Medici family which held the entire Europe in fear (Nicholl, 2005). The dual nature of Leonardo’s personality and work can be explained by the reflection of his id through the means of creative freedom which had no limitations and no physical implications on Leonardo. Thus, the fear of sexual intimacy was not blocking the id and gave it a new way of reflection which was the creative art (Robinson, 2007). That was the way Leonardo could express his passion and emotions. It also explains why his works are so alive. However, his rational ego did not disappear; it reflected itself in his scientific works. His interest in war machines is conditioned by super-ego consideration of the necessity to protect rather than attack (Slavik & Carlson, 2006).
Another was in which Leonardo’s suppressed id was manifesting itself in his behavior was his physical appearance. To the people of his time, it seemed that he had never followed the fashion of that time. In fact he did, but in his own way. He was acting against the dominating fashion trends and did everything in the opposite manner (Robinson, 2007). For instance, he preferred to wear a short tunic instead of fashionable long one, he always had his hair and beard below-shoulder long (Egler, 2013). This inconsistency between socially-perceived fashion and one’s behavior corresponds to the conflict between id and super-ego. In this regard, the main motivation is not the desire to conduct deviant act and challenge the society, but the necessity of Leonardo’s id to express his uniqueness through doing something differently, creatively (Carducci, 2009).
Irrespective of Leonardo’s successful social life and the charm to gain people’s respect and admiration, Leonardo was a loner and as it was mentioned above spent most of his time in his workshop in the world of ideas and creations. In terms of psychoanalysis, it can be argued that Leonardo could develop strong inter-personal bounds due to the traumatic experience of being separated from his mother at an early age (Karlsson, 2010). In this regard, the early break of the essential human bound and the lack of its substitution in the new family environment, created a vacuum of dissatisfaction with human feelings and close relationship. Although he enjoyed the company of other people and considered his students as family members, he simply could not commit to a serious relationship due to the traumatic loss of his mother and potential sexual assault in an early age (Carducci, 2009). Through his entire life, Leonardo wanted to return to that feeling belonging and sharing inter-human bond, but his fears could allow him to do it. His workshop was the safe haven where his desire to belong and relate to his mother was fulfilled through his works. By drawing numerous portraits of Madonna with a baby, famous for his art, he was regaining that bound with his long-gone mother, substituting the emotional relation to his paintings for the real human relations (Egler, 2013).
In terms of Leonardo’s lack of functional relationship with his brothers, Freud would suggest that this is classic example of sibling rivalry as an extension of an Oedipus complex, meaning the desire to take father’s place and possess the mother (Slavik & Carlson, 2006). However, in the case of Leonardo, the way of his completion is not aggressive, it was not aimed at demonstrating his supremacy in the desire to take father place, his id desired the return to his family, which was with his mother. The necessity of self-identification in the vague family situation stimulated Leonardo to redefine himself in opposition to the rest for his brothers and prove to his father that he was nothing like him (Carducci, 2009). So, it can be argued that through his intellectual and art self-identification, Leonardo was re-establishing his primary bond to his real family – his mother and did not try to win approval of his father over the rest of the siblings.
The Achievement of Notoriety
Leonardo’s alienation, self-centered approach to survival, the lack of family responsibilities and perfectionism helped him to look only forward and concentrate on his success. Unlike many people which have to think about family duties and support or fulfilling expectations of their parents, Leonardo did not have that burden, he had the most effective incentive – the desire to survive and succeed in the work where he had no one to count on but himself. In terms of Adler’s theory, Leonardo’s success is explained by his leadership and strength as a first-born in one family and a single child in his birth mother’s family (Slavik & Carlson, 2006). In this regard, the fact that at the beginning of his life he was alone with his mother gave him the confidence of a single child, while being the first-born in his father’s family made him exposed to the direct influence of the adults contributing to his early maturation and development of self-confidence (Carducci, 2009). Further rivalry with his brothers sharpened his survival instincts and realization that he was alone, and he could only count on himself and his intelligence. This early realization was the key to Leonardo’s use of all his talents for survival and achieving success.
In terms of the psychoanalytical perspective, the main rationale for Leonardo’s success is the suppression of one aspect of his personality which triggered the stronger development of another (Schultz, 2012). The suppression of id on the early stage resulted in the development of socially-tolerating and logical mind that was not driven by emotions but calculations and critical self-esteem. In this regard, Leonardo could concentrate only on his career and personal development without looking back on expectations of his father or siblings. Furthermore, the usually painful and destructive manifestation of id had a positive impact on Leonardo’s development since it resulted in the boost of his creativity and professional performance rather than a deviant and anti-social behavior (Egler, 2013). Thus, from a psychoanalytical perspective, Leonardo’s success is conditioned by such features as self-confidence, self-reliance, concentration rational thinking and the ability to control one’s emotions and id explosions and use them as a source of creativity (Karlsson, 2010).
Compare and contrast
From the described above explanations of the two theories, it becomes clear that they address the same aspects of Leonardo’s personality in different ways while the others are similar. For instance, both theories explain Leonardo’s loneliness due to the dysfunctional relationship with his family during his early childhood, suggesting that his concentration on his art was due to his inability to relate to people. Both theories agree that the rivalry between siblings and substitution of one family with another cause the identity crisis of Leonardo, who had to concentrate on his own capacities in order to succeed rather than expect help from anyone else in his life. This experience resulted in the development of his self-reliance and early maturation.
On the other hand, Leonardo’s friendliness, toleration of differences of other people, forgiveness of his student’s faults and respect for the authorities were explained in different ways. Freud would argue that it was conditioned by the suppression of id with super-ego and that it was not natural cause of actions which would eventually result in the rebellion of one id against social constructions (Schultz, 2012). Adler would argue that these features of Leonardo’s personality were a result of his unfulfilled first-borne duties in his family. So that he was transferring his elder brother responsibilities to protect, teach and be an example to follow from his family to his friends, relatives and students (Krohn, 2000). For this reason, he left his inheritance to his students.
Leonardo’s strong self-esteem and self-control in any situation would be explained by psychoanalysis as the dominance of his ego and logical thinking over his id and super-ego. On the other hand, birth order theory explained it by his first-born nature and the consequent presence of perfectionism, leadership features and strong self-awareness (Ernst & Angst, 1983). In this regard, the main difference between two theories would be that psychoanalysis assumes that this features are created due to the traumatic experiences of Leonardo’s development, while birth order theory suggest that they were inborn and thus predisposition certain traits in Leonardo’s personality from the very beginning (Krohn, 2000).
In terms of Leonardo’s sexual behavior, Freudian perspective suggests that Leonardo was homosexual due to the conflict with his father, separation from the mother and potential sexual assault (Freud, 2003). On the other hand, although Adler’s theory explores the question of homosexuality, it suggests that the more elder brothers the sibling has, the more chances are that he will develop homosexual inclinations (Slavik & Carlson, 2006). In this regard, Adler’s theory cannot explain Leonardo’s homosexuality if it was the case. On the other hand, this theory explains why he most likely was not a homosexual, but rather an asexual individual.
Comparing these two theories, it can be concluded that the psychoanalysis is a wider theoretical framework that can cover and explain multiple perspectives of one’s development and behavior, while Adler’s theory is more limited to the aspect of personality traits rather than the explanation of certain modes of behavior and preferences. That is why psychoanalysis can explain why Leonardo’s professional specialization and consequent behavior was divided between creative art and logical science. From the psychoanalytical perspective, creativity reflects Leonardo’s id, while the logic of science embodied his ego. In terms of sexual interpretations, it can be argued that the art corresponded to Leonardo’s feminine part of psyche, while his logical, scientific constructions of war related to his male aspect (Carducci, 2009). In this regard, it can be argued that Leonardo was gaining the unity of both aspects of his psyche through his art. This explains why he spent so much time in his workshop, because only there he felt complete. In terms of both theories, it can be concluded that although they agree on certain aspects of Leonardo’s personality, on other occasions, they complement each other. Thus, these two theories are not mutually replaceable.
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Egler, B. (2013). Personality Theories. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.
Ernst, D. and Angst, J. (1983). Birth Order: Its Influence on Personality. New York, NY: Springer-Verlag.
Freud, S. (2003). Leonardo Da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood. New York, NY: Barnes& Noble.
Karlsson, G. (2010). Psychoanalysis in a New Light. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Krohn, K.E. (2000). Everything You Need to Know about Birth Order. New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group.
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