The house of the Da Vinci in Barcelona

At the beginning of May 2019 the writer Javier Sierra informed me of the publication in the newspaper El Mundo (Sunday, May 5, 2019) of an article of his that developed some surprising aspects related to the figure of Leonardo da Vinci. Its title: "The hairs of Leonardo point to Spain". I will not speak on the genetic analysis that Leonardo's hair, supposedly found in 1863 by the writer Arsène Houssaye, can give rise to. As Javier Sierra correctly points out, the real novelty of this research, carried out by Agnese Sabato and Alessandro Vezzosi, is the study of the family ties of the Da Vinci family with the city of Barcelona, and in general terms, with the Crown of Aragon.

Here is an excerpt from the aforementioned article: "'We have discovered that his family roots [from Leonardo] go very far' [in the words of Sabato and Vezzosi]. His conclusion rests on Antonio da Vinci, paternal grandfather of the painter and head of the family during the years of his childhood. Antonio was, according to Vezzosi, a merchant with interests in Mallorca, Barcelona and the North of Morocco. In the Historical Archive of Protocols of Barcelona (AHPB) and the State of Prato have even found evidence of the family's business transactions. "

Knowing this interesting aspect, I have been able to fit one more piece into the complex puzzle of Leonardo's life. In my previous books on the Florentine sage (El viaje secreto de Leonardo da Vinci and Los mensajes ocultos de Leonardo da Vinci) I talk repeatedly about his "distant cousins" in Barcelona, which his great-grandfather's brother, named Giovanni da Vinci, who died in that city around the year 1406 (after residing in it for about forty years), had to leave behind. Of course, until this valuable contribution of Vezzosi and Sabato, this point  was for me only a suspicion, a presumption. But now I know that a branch of the Da Vinci lived in Barcelona, and that Antonio, Leonardo's grandfather, met her and dealt with her for some years.

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Family tree of the Da Vinci family. Note the Giovanni Da Vinci died in Barcelona in 1406. Source: Museo Ideale Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci).

The Da Vinci of Barcelona

Fruit of this knowledge about the Da Vinci branch of Barcelona, which starts from a distant ancestor of Leonardo, I got ready to visit the Historical Archive of Notarial Protocols of Barcelona, to which I have gone on numerous occasions, without much success, in search of the descendants of Giovanni Da Vinci. There I got in touch with Vicenç Ruiz Gómez, technician of that Archive, who informed me that, indeed, Allesandro Vezzosi was looking for a series of notarial manuals; but that previously another scholar, named Maria Elisa Soldani, did an exhaustive study of the Florentine merchants in Barcelona, published in 2010 with the title Uomini d'affari e mercanti toscani nella Barcellona del Quattrocento (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Institución Milà i Fontanals).

It was in this monumental work that I found the two main actors of the Barcelona branch of the Da Vinci, to whom Sabato and Vezzosi allude in their work Il DNA di Leonardo. 1-Le origini (published, with introduction by Carlo Vecce, by Angelo Pontecorboli Editore). More specifically, on page 374 et seq., Maria Elisa Soldani makes an extensive review of a dark character from the Florentine colony in Barcelona; but that, as we will see, was very influential in his community. From him he writes the following: “Tra i personaggi meno noti del panorama commerciale barcellonese di inizio secolo [XV] si trova il figlio di un notaio fiorentino, Frosino di ser Giovanni. Frosino risiedeva a Barcellona con la madre [Lottiera] nel quartiere di Santa Maria del Mar, ma non è chiaro se vi fossero giunti prima o dopo la morte di ser Giovanni [su padre; posteriormente comprobaremos que estaba sólidamente enraizado en el lugar]. Nonostante siano davvero poche le informazioni su di lui, queste attestano l’esistenza di una compagnia intestata a suo nome nella città comitale [Barcelona] che fu anche in affari con l’azienda di Francesco di Marco Datini. Intercorsero rapporti fiduciari tra il direttore dell’azienda Datini di Catalogna e Lottiera che, insieme al figlio con cui viveva, nel 1407 nominò Luca del Sera procuratore incaricato della gestione dei loro beni. 

Next I present here the transcription, made by Lucila Grau, of this important document, which mentions Frosino di Ser Giovanni, the already died father Giovanni di Ser Guido da Vinci, and his widow Lottiera di Francesco Beccanugi. Mother and son resided (in the year 1407) in the neighborhood of Santa María del Mar, and were in dealings with a solicitor named Luca del Sera: “Nos Lotteria habitatrix pro nunc [right now] Barchinone uxor Ser Johannis Ser Guidonis de Vinxio q° [quondam = died] ? … florinus atque? sui filia ? … filiaque Ffrancisci Bequemisas q° florentinuset ego Frosinus de Ser? Johan filius dictorum conjugum mercator civis Barchinone ambo habitantes in populo beate marie de mar Barchinone Gratis etc. constituo et ordino vos Lucham de Sera mercatorem civem florentinum procuratorem nostrum et utriusque nostrum instrumentum generalem super omnibus et singulis bonis nostris ... per duos annos. Testes Johannes Floyno curritor auris civis et Anthonius Bartholomei scriptor Barchinone”.

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According to this notarial document, the Da Vinci resided (in 1407) in the neighborhood of Santa María del Mar (Barcelona). Source: CAT AHPB 01 0079 (Tomàs de Bellmunt, 79/12). Page 45r.

Note that here the name Johannis [di] Ser Guidonis de Vinxio uses the phoneme "x" to refer to the Italian "c", which sounds like our "ch". On the other hand, this document (AHPB 79/12, c. 45r., of March 3, 1407) leaves the link of a branch of the Da Vinci with the city of Barcelona firmly established (specifically, with the neighborhood of the merchants: Santa María del Mar). This extended to the paternal family of Leonardo, since Antonio di Ser Piero da Vinci (his grandfather), cousin of Frosino di Ser Giovanni da Vinci, did business with the latter and lived in Barcelona for at least one season, as established by the next document (AHPB, 79/22, c. 3r, de 10 de marzo de 1404): “Sit omnibus notum quod ego Anthonius Ser Petri mercator florentinus pro nunc vero in civitate Barchinone degens procurator legitime substitutus sive subdelegatus a Frosimo Ser Johannes mercatore tunc in Barchinone deputato et elatto per Illustrissimum principem et dominum nostrum Martinum [dicta omnia] regem Aragonum ad recipiendum placandum et agregandum et tolligendum illud jus quod dictus dominus rex noviter et anno duo tempore ultra colligit et colligi mandavit in et super bonis et juribus omnium mercatorum ytalicorum comorantium et declinantium et qui de certo comorabunt in toto dominio et ditione dicti domini regis pro comerciis merquenciis at aliis rebus et bonis que inter dictum eius dominium portabunt et mitterent seu portari et mitti forent pro ut in quibusdam alteris capitulis inter dictum dominum regem ex una parte et dictos mercatores italicos ex parte altera factos et firmatos latius continue cum quadam ipsius domini regis littera seu provisione in papiro scripta et intus dorso dicti domini regis sigillo sacreto sigillata. Datum Valencia vicesima tertia die mensis decembris anno a nativitate domini millesimo quadringentesimo secundo nomine predicto confiteor et recognosco vobis Anthonio de Gutso mercatori florentino quod per rationem seu pretextu rerum et mercedarum per vos a dominio et ditione dicti domini regis pro dictis abstractorum seu de totum exercendorum vel in ipsos dominium et ditionem merca[to]rum seu de certo mercedarum dedistis solvistis et bistraxistis michi dicto nomine recepistis quinquaginta florenos auri de Aragonia valentes viginti septem libras et decem solidos barchinonenses de terno. Etc. Ideo renunciando exceptiri peciem non nunciaratum? et non solute et doli in testimonium permissorum presentem vobis dicto nomine facio apocham de soluto. Actum est hoc Barchinone decima die marcii anno a nat. Domini. Signum Anthoni Ser Petri predicti qui hec dicto nomine laudo et firmo. Testes huius rei sunt Berengarius ...? et Johannes Dalmatii scriptores habitatores Barchinone”.


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Antonio di Ser Piero da Vinci, Leonardo's grandfather, lived in Barcelona in the year 1404. Source: CAT AHPB 01 0079 (Tomàs de Bellmunt, 79/22). Page 3r.

The general meaning of this text is summarized by Maria Elisa Soldani in the following paragraph: “Nel 1404 il fiorentino Antonio di Ser Piero [abuelo de Leonardo], in veste di procuratore di Frosino di Ser Giovanni, emise una quietanza nei confronti del connazionale Antonio di Guccio per f. [florines] 50, equivalenti a …, dovuti per il pagamento dei diritti di passaggio delle merci. Nel documento si dichiarava che il suo principale era stato deputato ed eletto recettore del diritto degli italiani da re Martino [el Humano, muerto en 1410] e che la riscossione del diritto era sancita da certi capitoli stipulati tra il monarca e il mercanti italiani e da una lettera regia redatta a Valenza il 3 dicembre 1402”. In short, through this notarial document we know three additional things: 1) that during the year 1404 the Florentine Antonio di Ser Piero Da Vinci (Leonardo's grandfather) was a procurator of his cousin Frosino and resided in Barcelona, 2) that Frosino was the general receiver of the dret dels italians, a tax levied on Italian merchants, and 3) that he, representative of the Da Vinci in Barcelona, had direct contact with the king, which, according to a document kept in the Archive of the Crown of Aragon (ACA, C, reg. 2253, C. 46r, July 2, 1400), states the following: "quibus sibi tenemur ratione mutui" (with Frosino).

Apparently, according to Maria Elisa Soldani (page 376), King Martí of Aragon had outstanding loans with Frosino, so in July 1400 he paid him 100 florins, and named him "general receiver" of the dret dels italians charge for pay off the rest of the loan, a position he held at least between 1402 and 1404. In other words, Frosino had an important position in the group of Italian merchants based in Barcelona.

The business of the Da Vinci

We have seen how the Da Vinci of Barcelona (Ser Giovanni, Frosino, and eventually Antonio di Ser Piero da Vinci, his cousin) had a close relationship with the Aragonese monarchy; This was the result of its important role in the commercial routes between Tuscany and Barcelona at the end of the 14th century and the beginning of the 15th century, especially with the Datini house. In this regard, Maria Elisa Soldani writes the following (page 375): “Le relazioni con l’azienda Datini di Catalogna erano iniziate molti anni prima e sono testimoniate da una lettera inviata dallo stesso Frosino alla compagnia di Pisa nel settembre del 1393. Nella missiva si parlava di una partita di merci che Frosino inviava da Maiorca, attraverso la sua compagnia di Barcellona. Aggiungeva che lui non era soggetto al pagamento delle dogane in quanto cittadino di Barcellona e che i loro compagni di Genovapossedavano la sua carta di franchigia, pertanto non avrebbero dovuto farsi trattenere eventuali spese doganali dal patrono della nave: ‘Ricordovi io non ò a pagare doana però sono citadino di qui [Barcelona], pertanto non vi lascate ritenere niente al padrone. I vostri di Genova anno la mia franchigia’”. 

This letter provides two important facts: 1) Frosino di Ser Giovanni [Da Vinci] was a factor (representative) of the Datini house, and 2) he was rooted in Barcelona, being a citizen of this city; which indirectly implies that he was born in it, or that his residence has lasted for many years. Given the importance that the Datini businesses acquired in the Barcelona overseas trade, Frosino, and in general the Da Vinci family, should have a relevant position not only in the Italian community of the place, but also in the social structure of Barcelona , and in general, the Crown of Aragon (King Martí calls him repeatedly "my faithful Frosino", which is a sign of personal proximity, both to him and to the Cancelleria Reial).

In the book by Reinhold C. Mueller, entitled The Venetian Money Market: Bancs, Panics, and the Public Debt (1200-1500), published by John Hopkins University, specifically in its appendix C, it is said that in the file of Francesco di Marco Datini some 150,000 letters are preserved. Some 7,000 of them were written in Venice, with 1,400 of them addressed to Barcelona (dated between 1395 and 1411), in second position after Florence (where 2,100 were sent between 1386-1407). This gives an idea of the importance that this city had in the Western Mediterranean trade. If we carry out an exploration of the Archivo di Stato di Prato, and more specifically of the Datini Archive on line, we will find that, among this enormous correspondence, 151 letters have Frosino di Ser Giovanni as interlocutor. His correspondence from the city of Barcelona starts in the year 1392, and continues uninterrupted until 1405; good part of it directed to his partner Luca del Sera, Genoese resident in Valencia. And among these 151 letters, four of them are written in Catalan (three in his own handwriting); two of them for the Luca del Sera company in Valencia, and one for a Catalan partner (Sogarra Bertomeu); To all this we must add one received by Frosino from his partner Amat Bartolomeu. This is indicative that Frosino's roots in Catalonia (beyond his citizenship) also extend to his culture, as indicated by the fact that he is in a position to write in Catalan.

Frosino had a certain familiarity, not only with the King of Aragon, but also with the hard core of the Datini company. Not in vain, in a letter addressed to Margherita di Domenico Bandini, wife of Francesco di Marco Datini (dated September 22, 1401) is made known with a nickname (Stanino).

Some considerations of interest

Once we know the presence of a branch of the Da Vinci in Barcelona in the first decade of the fifteenth century, it is legitimate to think that Leonardo had come to the home of the relatives of his grandfather in this city. And this for two reasons: 1) because Antonio di Ser Piero Da Vinci, in his childhood, would undoubtedly have told him about his relatives "overseas"; and 2) because these would surely still reside in Barcelona, because, as we have seen, they were not only legally recognized "citizens", integrated into their culture (to the point of speaking the language of the country), but had a good reputation and a magnificent social position in Catalonia. In this way, it is more than possible that, like his grandfather, he came to this land to "make his fortune", perhaps not as a businessman, but as an "ojeador" (spy) at the service of the Signoria of Florence, and course, also as an artist. As a result of his stay we have his San Jerónimo (in Montserrat, and later in Rome), and already in Milan, the Virgin of the Rocks.

I recognize that on the many occasions that I have spent long hours in the Historical Archive of Notarial Protocols of Barcelona I have not found any trace of the Da Vinci of Barcelona; at least in the computerized catalogs, or in those that are conserved in cards of cardboard. In view of the tremendous research of Maria Elisa Soldani, the reason for this is clear: the Da Vinci of Barcelona did not use this nickname (Da Vinci) in their notarial documents, or in business letters, but only family filiation (the first name and father's name only in the case of Ser Guido da Vinci, father of Ser Giovanni, the nickname Da Vinci is used, and this is because he lived in Florence). In short, it is clear that only the Da Vinci of Florence, or Vinci, retained this name; in Barcelona (and perhaps in other places) they suppressed it. In this way it is almost impossible to follow his trail.

One last question: the mercantile seal of the company of Frosino de Ser Giovanni is composed of two elements: a cross, and below, a figure with a drop shape (of water) with the tip down, with three bands inclined to the right. Do these three bands constitute the three red sticks on a yellow background of the Da Vinci shield? If this were the case, we might think that the King of Aragon Martin the Human would have given this emblem to the family in recognition of his commercial work in his kingdom. But I see this as unlikely, because in other cases of Italian families that wear the flag of Aragon (the Casanova and the Apiani, for example), this one occupies some space of the shield, and they do not fill it in its entirety, as in the case of the Da Vinci's coat of arms. On the other hand, in his case, he would have represented the branch of the Da Vinci of Barcelona, not that of the Da Vinci of Florence (with three blue sticks on a yellow background) or those of Vinci.

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