Leonardo da Vinci’s Moon Firdaria: A Benevolent Birth

Conjunct the greater benefic Jupiter in rulership, in mutual reception with the lesser benefic Venus and free from malefic rays, Leonardo’s Piscean moon promises a benevolent childhood. Placed in the fourth whole sign house in the exalted bound of Venus/Pisces and applying to the Sun in Taurus shapes Leonardo’s childhood experiences, his connection to nature and country life and the nurturing of his scientific mind.

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painting of a infant boy playing with ears of sheep and looking to the top left
infant Jesus in The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne painting by Leonardo da Vinci

Heliacal rising occurs when a superior planet (i.e. Mars, Jupiter, Saturn) makes its first appearance in the eastern sky before sunrise. This special phenomenon represents the symbolic birth of the planet and is a powerful form of planetary dignity. In early March 1452, Jupiter, the greater benefic, rose heliacally in the sign of Aquarius. One month later, Jupiter moved into its sign of rulership, Pisces. The sign of flight, Sagittarius, is the other sign that Jupiter rules. This sign rose in the late evening in central Italy in the spring of 1452. The nocturnal luminary, the Moon, would join Jupiter in Pisces on April 14, 1452, the day Leonardo da Vinci was born.

Moon Firdaria – April 14, 1452, to April 14, 1461

For nocturnal births, the main firdaria ruler for the first 9 years of life is the Moon. So, for Leonardo da Vinci, the Moon rules the firdaria period from April 14, 1452, to April 14, 1461.

Planet in focus: The Moon

Rectified astrology chart of Leonardo da Vinci
Rectified birth chart of Leonardo da Vinci April 14, 1452 JC, 9:32:06 p.m. Ascendant 5SAG4’55”
  • In-sect luminary
  • In Pisces in the fourth whole sign house and third quadrant house
  • In the bound of Venus/Pisces
  • In the dwad of Aries
  • Rules the eighth house (Cancer) and the South Node in Cancer.
  • Rules the sixth whole sign house (Taurus), which contains the Sun and Venus, by exaltation
  • Conjunct Jupiter, its sign ruler
  • Received by Venus in Taurus, its bound ruler, in a sextile
  • In mutual reception with Venus. The Moon is in Venus’ exaltation, Pisces, and Venus is in the Moon’s exaltation, Taurus
  • Separates from Jupiter/Pisces and applies to Sun/Taurus in the sixth whole sign house
  • Is waning (decreasing in light)
  • Free from the rays of both malefics, Saturn and Mars

Moon in Pisces – A benevolent birth

Leonardo da Vinci's Saint Anne, Mary and Jesus as a child painting
Leonardo da Vinci’s Saint Anne, Mary and Jesus as a child, 1503-1519, Paris, Louvre

Leonardo was born out of wedlock. His father, Ser Piero, represented by Jupiter in Pisces in the fourth whole sign house, worked for the religious communities of Florence drawing deeds and contracts.  His mother, Caterina, is signified by the Moon in the fourth whole sign house. The fact that the conjunction between the two planets takes place in the third quadrant house indicates that Leonardo was conceived in the countryside near his family home. Leonardo was born in a small stone house in the hamlet of Anchiano, situated a few miles from Vinci.

Two days after his birth, Leonardo was baptized in the church of Santa Croce in Vinci, a public event witnessed by no fewer than ten godparents. Even though Leonardo was illegitimate, his birth was auspicious, and the occasion was celebrated splendidly. The Moon, which is the sect ruler, is conjunct Jupiter, the greater benefic, with excellent reception.

The Moon separates from Jupiter. Ser Piero was already betrothed to the daughter of a rich Florentine notary, whom he married 8 months after Leonardo was born. Caterina was married off to a local farmer named Antonio di Piero del Vacca. Leonardo may have spent his early childhood in the countryside with his mother and her husband, but for the most part he split his time between his mother and grandfather’s home, which can be seen by the prominence of the fourth whole sign house planets, Jupiter and the Moon, in the third quadrant house.

The fourth house and the Da Vinci family

The fourth house is the sign of the father, grandfather, homeland, ancestry, and heritage. Both Jupiter and the Moon in the fourth whole sign house are placed in the bound of Venus/Pisces. Their placement in the third quadrant house is relevant as well. The da Vinci split their lives between the city of Florence and the countryside surrounding Vinci. Florence was their professional home and Vinci their vacation and summer home. They were a family of notaries whose business in Florence consisted of drawing deeds and contracts and attesting deals. Jupiter here is wearing his legal hat and, being conjunct the Moon, provides legal service to the public.

Tuscany's north view from Vinci
The Vinci landscape

The profits from the business helped them to acquire property and farmlands in Vinci and the properties were passed on from father to son. Leonardo’s grandfather would be a pause in the tradition when he chose to embrace country life exclusively. The produce of the land ranged from wheat, millet, timber, and fruit to oil, wine, cheese, and honey courtesy of the luxurious and exalted bound of Venus/Pisces. Leonardo’s father, Ser Piero, would take up the family trade, becoming a notary who played an important role in Florence’s affairs.

Note that the Moon applying to the Sun in Taurus placed in the third house from the fourth also represents Leonardo’s grandmother Lucia, who came from Toia di Bacchereto, a few miles east of Vinci. Her family dealt in maiolica pottery, a popular business signified by the Sun in Taurus.

Sun in Taurus – Leonardo’s uncle and country life

The Moon separates from Jupiter and applies to the Sun in Taurus in the sixth whole sign house. Various themes in Leonardo’s childhood relating to country life can be attributed to his Taurus Sun. The Sun is placed in the bound of Venus/Taurus and Leonardo’s paintings and drawings in his later life, primarily during his Sun and Venus major firdaria, would draw on these experiences.

Uncle Francesco

The sixth house is the third from the fourth house, representing the sibling of the father, and hence the Sun in Taurus in the sixth house represents Leonardo’s uncle Francesco. Only 15 years older than Leonardo, Francesco played an important role in Leonardo’s childhood. With his father often away on business in Florence, Leonardo spent most of his time with his young uncle exploring nature and living the country life—classic Taurean pursuits. Leonardo would draw on these experiences when creating his art in later years. Like Leonardo’s grandfather, uncle Francesco would have no ambition for worldly success, remaining content with the country life and managing the estate.

The Moon separating from Jupiter in the fourth house and applying to the Sun in Taurus means that Ser Piero would leave nothing of his estate to Leonardo, whereas his uncle Francesco would make Leonardo his sole heir. The Sun is applying in a square to Mars in Aquarius placed in the third house of siblings. Leonardo would later end up in a bitter fight with his siblings over the estate of his uncle.

Agriculture labor and olive mill

The agricultural cycle involves multiple activities such as plowing, planting, and harvesting. A typical Taurus, Leonardo relished taking part in these pastoral pursuits. In one drawing, he depicted all the motion involved in agriculture labor with a simple flourish.

Images of people engaged in various agriculture activities
Agriculture labour, from a sheet of drawings of c. 1506-8, Leonardo da Vinci

Near Vinci stood an olive mill, the Molino della Doccia di Vinci, as Leonardo would recall in a sketch around 1504-1505 (during his Sun firdaria period), where Leonardo would get acquainted with the olive oil production process. Olive harvesting was a special affair of the region. Between October and December, the olives were beaten from the tree branches with long sticks and then carried to the mills where they were ground and pressed to make oil. Even though olive oil was not used for painting, Leonardo would use this milling method to grind colors for his oil paints, which were based primarily on linseed and walnut oil. He drew the grinding machinery with precision and probably built them for his own workshop.

Walnuts are surrounded by a thick rind like a skin, and if you do not remove it when you make oil from them, this skin tinges the oil, and when you work with it the skin separates and comes to the surface of a picture, and this is what makes it change [i.e. discolor].

Leonardo da Vinci in Codex Atlanticus

Wickerwork-inspired knot designs

Head of leda drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, chalk on paper
Head of Leda, Leonardo da Vinci

The osier willow grew in profusion in Vinci and its shoots were used to craft wickerwork. The shoots of the osier were woven together to create beautifully designed baskets. Leonardo’s mother Catherina probably also practiced the craft and Leonardo would have observed her closely as she plaited the osier. The elaborate knot patterns and intricate designs would be evident in many of Leonardo’s paintings, such as the braided hair in a study for the head of Leda and the La Belle Principessa, as well as the decorations in the dress of the Lady with an Ermine and the Mona Lisa.

Intricate pattern design
Emblem created by Leonardo da Vinci for his art studio

While in Venice shortly after 1500—during his Sun firdaria period—Leonardo would create an emblem for his art academy featuring complex interwoven patterns inspired by wickerwork. Wickerwork is a Taurean craft and Leonardo’s Sun in Taurus in bound Venus/Taurus makes it a fitting choice to inspire his personal emblem.

Animals

As a country boy, Leonardo found himself surrounded by different animals and enjoyed their company. The Sun in Taurus in the sixth house signifies the small animals of all kinds that one can find in the countryside. Leonardo would sketch and study dogs, cats, and especially horses. Vasari, Leonardo’s earliest biographer, says:

He took an especial delight in animals of all sorts, which he treated with wonderful love and patience. For instance, when he was passing the places where they sold birds, he would often take them out of their cages with his hand, and having paid whatever price was asked by the vendor, he would let them fly away into the air, giving them back their lost liberty.

Giorgio Vasari
drawings of many cats and dragon
Study sheet of cats, dragons and other animals
drawing of two cat and a dog
Two studies of a cat and one of a dog

Most of the fables of animals Leonardo wrote during the 1490s can be traced to his early years in the countryside, as can the images of animals and nature that he depicted, like the spider’s web in the vineyard and the crow flying over a bell tower with a nut in its beak. These fables resembled Aesop’s but were shorter, with the animals relating their story to convey some moral message.

Leonardo would write these fables for literary amusement while at the Sforza court in Milan, as represented by Mercury in Aries in the fifth house of entertainment. The Moon’s placement in the dwad of Aries likely provides the necessary connection between Mercury and the Moon and, through the Moon’s application, to the Sun in the sixth house of small animals. Thus, we see childhood experiences shaping the fables that Leonardo would read for the amusement of the court.

Leonardo was a vegetarian as well. Tommaso Masini, a friend of Leonardo, would say, “He would not kill a flea for any reason whatever; he preferred to dress in Linen so as not to wear something dead.”

At the same time, the Sun is applying in a square to Mars in Aquarius, which means that Leonardo had no qualms about dissecting animals for his anatomy studies. We will discuss Leonardo’s interest in dissection later.

Bound Saturn/Taurus – Nature is an engineered art

painting of Ginevra de' Benci
Ginevra de’ Benci, oil on panel, painting by Leonardo da Vinci

While we are talking about the Taurean influence on Leonardo’s childhood, courtesy of the Moon ruling the firdaria period and applying to the Sun in Taurus, it is worthwhile to consider the Sun’s ruler, Venus, also placed in Taurus. Venus in Taurus is in her domicile and is key to understanding Leonardo as a consummate artist. Venus rules both the luminaries as bound ruler; according to Valens, this is sufficient for Venus to serve as the Victor of the chart. Note that Venus is placed in the bound of Saturn/Taurus. We will be talking in depth about the mixed generosity between Saturn and Venus but for now, here are some quick thoughts on Venus in the bound Saturn/Taurus.

The Saturn/Taurus influence manifests in Leonardo’s systematic and experimental approach to learning the various arts. He was not sent to Latin school, where he would have wasted his time learning literature or classics. He was self-taught, except for some basic mathematics, and nature became his foremost teacher. He was a disciple of experience, applying his mind to understand the workings of nature and trying to recreate them in his art. His mind, free from prejudices and authority, employed an empirical approach to any question.

“First I shall do some experiments before I proceed further because my intention is to consult experience first and then with reasoning show why such experience is bound to operate in such a way.”

Leonardo da Vinci

He spent most of his time with nature and asked basic yet profound questions. Nature provided him with subtle clues and clever solutions to apply not only to his paintings and drawings but also to his engineering projects. His thought process revolved around the idea that nature is an engineered art.

How light reflects from a surface depending on distance and direction, how shadows cast by certain objects affect the color and shade of another object, how the wings and tail help the kite fly or change direction, the similarities between the motion of a bird in the air and a fish in the water, how different muscles and bones move when we walk or turn around—these were the type of questions that nature threw at him every day, and he would dwell on them all his life. Saturn in Taurus is also found in the birth charts of the famous artist Pablo Picasso and the architect Antoni Gaudi. In Gaudi’s case, Saturn in Taurus is placed in his ninth house of religion; he was known as “God’s architect” and is famous for his quote, “Nature is the only real teacher.” I think that sums up Saturn/Taurus.

The Moon and memories

The Moon is the significator of memories. In his writings, Leonardo would recall two of his memories from his childhood, both indicated by his Moon conjunct Jupiter in Pisces. One memory is linked to the Moon’s ruler Jupiter ruling the Sagittarius ascendant and the other is based on the Moon ruling the South Node in Cancer. The Moon’s placement in the third quadrant house indicates Leonardo writing about these memories.

Sagittarius: The sign of flight

Jupiter rules the Sagittarius Ascendant and is placed in Pisces along with the Moon in the third quadrant house. When studying the flight patterns of the fork-tailed red kite in 1505, Leonardo would vividly recall a memory from when he was still a baby:

Writing like this so particularly about the kite seems to be my destiny, since the first memory of my childhood is that it seemed to me, when I was in my cradle, that a kite came to me, and opened my mouth with its tail, and struck me several times with its tail inside my lips.

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo’s words hint at a mixture of fantasy and real experience. Whether this memory was real, imagined or perhaps a dream, Sagittarius is the sign of flight, and the flight of birds was a constant theme in Leonardo’s life.

multiple images of bird in motion in flight
Studies of the flight of birds, Leonardo da Vinci

His short codex “On the Flight of Birds”, composed around 1505, about the time when he recorded the above memory, is a testament to his passion for understanding the flight of birds and how man can use this knowledge to build a flying machine. In it he writes:

The big bird will take its first flight above the back of the Great Cecero, filling the universe with amazement, filling all the chronicles with its fame, and bringing eternal glory to the nest where it was born.

The “big bird” is Leonardo himself preparing for the first human flight. The kite coming to his cradle and inciting him with its tail was a testament to his destiny.

South Node in Cancer in the eight house: Apocalyptic deluge

The other memory that would have a great impact on Leonardo involved a dark cave he encountered when on a hike near Florence. The Moon rules the South Node placed in the eighth house associated with darkness and death. Leonardo wavered on whether to enter the cave or not.

Having wandered some distance among gloomy rocks, I came to the mouth of a great cavern, in front of which I stood some time, astonished. Bending back and forth, I tried to see whether I could discover anything inside, but the darkness within prevented that. Suddenly there arose in me two contrary emotions, fear and desire—fear of the threatening dark cave, desire to see whether there were any marvelous thing within.

Curiosity won the moment. He entered the cave and discovered the fossil of a prehistoric whale embedded in the wall. This would cause him to reflect on the transitory nature of one’s existence, how nature can cause large-scale devastation through flood or fire, and how even a glorious whale can easily perish because of nature’s wrath. The whale is represented by Jupiter in Pisces in Leonardo’s chart, the exaltation ruler of the South Node in Cancer.

The forces of nature are descending on a city with considerable force. The theme of the Deluge may have been suggested by reports of the catastrophe in Bellinzona in 1515. "For in our own age something similar has been seen, a mountain fell seven miles across a valley, closed it off and created a lake," as Leonardo noted in connection with a discussion about the creation of the Red Sea.
Deluge over a city, black chalk on paper, Leonardo da Vinci

The theme of apocalyptic deluge would lurk constantly in his psyche, and he would brood on it during dark times. He also drew on it as inspiration for some paintings, such as one of St. Jerome beating his chest in anguish beside a cave, and his drawings and notes depicting floods.

A Cancerian South Node in the eighth house is the indicator of the apocalyptic deluge, and its placement in the bound of Venus allows Leonardo to channel this dark theme into his art.

Landscape and memory

Another aspect of the Moon in the fourth house of land manifests as the triggering of childhood memories from the landscapes he painted. The French biographer Serge Bramly says that these painted landscapes are a private window into Leonardo’s childhood environment “magnified by the double lens of art and memory”.

Leonardo himself talks about how painted landscapes can encode memories in his A Treatise on Painting. Observing a painted landscape can trigger memories of real landscapes that we were once part of and evoke beautiful feelings through a poetic connection to the natural world.

But if the painter sets before you the same landscapes … and others where you have received your pleasures beside some spring, you may see yourself as a lover with your beloved, in the flowered meadow beneath the sweet shade of plants begging to turn green.

Drawing of the Arno Valley
Arno Valley Landscape, drawing by Leonardo da Vinci

One of Leonardo’s earliest surviving works is a vivid landscape drawing of the Arno Valley done in 1473, the year his major Jupiter firdaria period was active without any minor ruler (April 14, 1472 to December 31, 1473). Recall that Jupiter is with the Moon in the fourth house!

The Lot of Fortune

Since we are in the Moon firdaria period, it makes sense to evaluate the Lot based on the Moon: The Lot of Fortune. Leonardo’s Lot of Fortune is in Aquarius in the third whole sign house conjunct Mars. It is in the bound Mercury/Aquarius.

The third house is the house of primary education and Mars conjunct the Lot of Fortune in the third house is probably why he did not receive the usual early education of the time and explains his rebuttal towards people who considered him uneducated.

I am fully aware that my not being a man of letters may cause certain presumptuous people to think that they may with reason blame me, alleging that I am man without learning, Foolish folk!… They strut about puffed up and pompous, decked out and adorned not with their own labors, but by those of others … They will say that because I have no book learning I cannot properly express what I desire to describe—but they do not know that my subjects require experience rather than the words of others.

We noted in the section on the bound of Saturn/Taurus how Leonardo would learn from nature and experience. The ruler of the conjunction of the Lot of Fortune and Mars in Aquarius is Saturn and Saturn is also the bound ruler of Leonardo’s Lot of Spirit in Libra. We shall see how Saturn teaches and molds Leonardo in the next article on his Saturn firdaria. See you there!

References

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