Adam Phillips (again), on Freud on Leonardo

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“…And Freud’s question, where does a person’s history come from, could only be answered by accounting for whatever it was that his subject found unavoidably interesting, As an art form and as a lived life, biography was a series of fascinations. Leonardo was both the object of Freud’s fascination…and he was himself a man fascinated. Driven, indeed spellbound, as his paintings apparently showed, by ‘the powerful fascination exerted by the smile…at once fascinating and puzzling’.
…If fascination is the sign of loss, as Freud will say of Leonardo, then it is by the same token an opportunity (if not an invitation) to reconstruct a persuasive narrative history of Leonardo’s life.”

“We are only fascinated, Freud suggests, by something we have already lost. We are only fascinated, in other words, by what is missing – by the past. Fascination is the exhilaration of a mourning that never gives up hope. Leonardo’s obsession with the woman’s enigmatic smile – like the scene of a crime he keeps returning to – is the real enigma, sustained even by Freud’s explanation of it. ‘It was his mother’, Freud writes, ‘that possessed the mysterious smile – the smile he had lost, and that fascinated him so much when he found it again in the Florentine lady.’…”


One thought on “Adam Phillips (again), on Freud on Leonardo

  1. “IT’S official: Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was 83 per cent happy, 9 per cent disgusted, 6 per cent fearful and 2 per cent angry.

    Nicu Sebe at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands tested emotion-recognition software on the famous enigmatic smile. His algorithm, developed with researchers at the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, examines key facial features such as the curvature of the lips and crinkles around the eyes, then scores each face with respect to six basic emotions. Sebe drew on a database of young female faces to derive an average “neutral” expression, which the software used as a standard to compare the painting against.

    Software capable of recognising human emotions just by looking at photographs or videos could lead to PCs that adjust their response depending on the user’s mood, as well as smarter surveillance systems.”

    To Freud the enigma was ‘Woman’. Surely Leonardo has only captured a true likeness of a female at the mercy of her hormones!

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