Freud as Leonardo: Why the First Psychobiography Went Wrong


  • An earlier version of this article was presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association, Washington, DC, 23 August 1982 I am grateful for the assistance of a number of individuals, especially Eva Schepeler, Ruth Abraham, Ronald Wilkinson and the Staff of the Library of Congress Manuscript Division, and David Newlands and the Staff of the Freud Museum, London

Send reprint requests to Alan C Elms, Psychology Department, University of California, Davis, CA 95616


ABSTRACT The first genuine psychobiography, Sigmund Freud's Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood (1910/1957b), presented several important guidelines for psychobiographical research Among them were the rejection both of pathography and of idealization, and the avoidance both of arguments built upon a single clue and of strong conclusions based upon inadequate data Though the guidelines are sound, Freud violated those guidelines in the very work where they first appeared Freud's methodological errors and his “obsession” with the Leonardo book are traced in part to his projective identification with Leonardo, incorporating aspects of his own sexual history and his anxieties about the future of the psychoanalytic movement