L E O N A R D O D A V I N C I - G E N I U S ?
An article exploring some astrological considerations
Remarkable. Outstanding. Extraordinary. Original. Exceptional. Individual. These are the words that crop up repeatedly in definitions of “genius”. But is “genius” represented by any specific signatures in the birthchart? For a while now, I have been drawn to looking at the chart of Leonardo da Vinci and using it as a teaching tool and as the subject of astrology talks on various occasions.
There is always a discussion amongst astrologers as to which house system to use when drawing up a chart. I decided to use the Regiomontanus system when looking at Leonardo’s chart, since it was the house system favoured during the 15th and 16th Centuries, when he lived. Regiomontanus shows his Sun in Taurus sitting in the 4th house, but falling within 2 degrees of the cusp of the 5th house – appropriate, I felt, for a dedicated artist whose studio is his home.
Finding the time of birth for earlier centuries can be difficult, and times given are often unreliable since sources can vary. However, records state that Leonardo was born at the “Third hour of the night” Renaissance time – that is, three hours after the last “Ave Maria” – which most biographers seem to agree on (Vezzosi, “Leonardo da Vinci: Renaissance Man), which gives 10.30p.m. in modern time. With modern computer programmes, this gives us 17 degrees 37 minutes of Sagittarius on the Ascendant. (Lois Rodden goes with a 9.40p.m. birth giving 6 degrees of Sagittarius on the Ascendant with Neptune conjunct the MC, and Erlewine, “Circle Book of Charts” gives a 10 degree Ascendant).
Using a Regiomontanus chart, giving 17 degrees of Sagittarius on the Ascendant, the stage is set to look into the chart for Leonardo, born 15th April, 1452, in the town of Vinci, Italy. See the chart below and on the Home page.
Firstly, we should consider what we might be looking for as an expression of “genius”. Collins’ definition of “genius” reads: “a person with exceptional ability, especially of a highly original kind”……”a person considered as exerting great influence of a certain sort”. From this, we might want to investigate contacts from the planet Uranus, (originality) and/or Saturn (influence) to some personal or significant planets in the chart. Wikipedia offers : “A genius is an individual who successfully applies a previously unknown technique in the production of a work of art, science, or calculation, or who masters and personalizes a known technique. A genius typically possesses a great intelligence or remarkable abilities in a specific subject, or shows an exceptional natural capacity of intellect and/or ability, especially in the production of creative and original work, something that has never been seen or evaluated previously. Traits often associated with genius include strong individuality, imagination, and innovative drive”.
This last definition again leads us to consider the planet Uranus (representing individuality, the unexpected, a higher intelligence, originality, and innovation), and Saturn (for hard work dedication required in the achievement of any excellence) but also Neptune (creativity, imagination, art).
But how is “genius” differentiated from “talent” (Collins: “innate ability, aptitude or faculty, especially when unspecified; above average ability)?
Perhaps “talent” allows for nourishment, encouragement, enhancement, and therefore control, whereas “genius” comes from an inner uncontrollable drive, compulsion or impulsion to express something previously totally undiscovered – and therefore innovative, inventive. Uranus once more comes to mind, as well as Mars (drive, initiative, urgency, desire, impatience, competitive spirit, “me first!”).
Creativity, geometric proportion, invention, scientific – all words expressing known abilities of Leonardo. Just taking a brief look at his chart, it is not difficult to see where the potential "talent" and creativity lie – chart ruler Jupiter dignified in Pisces, Venus dignified in Taurus and trine Neptune, Moon in Pisces, and Sun in Taurus tightly applying to the Taurean cusp of the 5th house of creative personal self-expression.
Looking at the overall shaping of Leonardo’s chart, (that is, the layout of the planets in relation to each other in the chart), in the tradition of Marc Edmund Jones, we see a “bucket” shape (with Saturn representing the handle of the bucket) – “inclination to experiment and work on the basis of experience”. Leonardo certainly did. He climbed a mountain to give us the first ever “bird’s eye view” of a building; he dissected human and horse cadavers along with insects and birds’ wings. His life’s work was based on the premise that “Nature knows best”. His methods – the basis of his excellence – were seeing, observing, investigating and then reproducing what the eye saw – as can be seen in his sketch (below) comparing the heart and its vessels (H) to a germinating seed (S).
To Leonardo, the eye was the analytical master – seeing was, literally, believing. He scoffed at poets and musicians as they “could not rival the arts of the eye”. A picture, he maintained, unlike musical harmonies, “can be appreciated with a single glance”.
This belief in Nature reflects the Taurean energy in his chart. His interest in the precision in Nature can be seen in his attention to geometric proportion (like many artists of his time he used Plato’s Divine Ratio) – with the Saturn in Libra tightly conjunct the Midheaven and opposite the Mercury in Aries giving him the ability to “pinpoint balance” in a painting. We see this in the unfinished painting of the Last Supper, and in the famous Vitruvius Man."
Earth and water energy in the chart (Taurus, Pisces, Saturn) combine to deliver design that is both beautiful (Venus dignified in Taurus and ruling the 5th house, Venus trine Neptune, chart ruler Jupiter in Pisces, Moon in Pisces), and functional (Saturn in Libra trine Mars in Aquarius, Uranus sextile Venus in Taurus, Sun in Taurus).
But where is the spark of genius? To be a genius, one has to be original in their thinking, and also, to have a vision. The vision comes from the element of fire. And there it sits, majestically on the Sagittarius Ascendant of the chart. The Mercury in Aries (fire sign) also offers original, visionary thinking to the equation. The Saturn in Libra opposition to Mercury in Aries also suggests indefatigable mental agility and the constant effort of bringing precision to his work.
However, I had to look much further to find a potential “spark” of inventiveness, that might suggest “genius”. And there it was - subtle, and unexpectedly unobtrusive – the planet Uranus (the unexpected, electricity, excitement, intuition) sitting on the midpoint of Sun (creative essence and vitality) and Mercury (mental ability), acting as an unstoppable, wilful, innovative and stimulating mental force.
Of course, we can not pin all of Leonardo’s genius on the planet Uranus alone, as the whole chart is the blueprint of the life in question, but one does wonder whether if, without it, his Sun in Taurus and Moon in Pisces would have found the drive and willpower for such Herculean efforts as he attempted during his lifetime (the development of a crossbow, the study of waves to support his painting of wavy hair, the engineering feat of diverting a river – all of which are documented in Martin Kemp’s excellent book, “Leonardo”).