Siblings of a Genius
Although Leonardo was the first child for both of his parents, he ended up with a total of seventeen half siblings. Leonardo's father was never married to his mother, but he married four other women over the course of his life. This propensity for multiple weddings was one of many characteristics that Leonardo did not inherit from his father.
Ser Piero's first two wives, Albiera and Francesca, both died young and bore no children. His third wife, Margherita, gave birth to two sons, Antonio (Ser Piero's first legitimate heir) in 1476 and Giuliomo in 1479. A girl, Maddalena, was born in 1477, but she died as a toddler in 1480. Soon after, Margherita died as well, and Ser Piero married his fourth wife, Lucrezia. Lucrezia gave birth to two daughters and seven more sons: Lorenzo in 1484, Violante in 1485, Domenico in 1486, Margherita in 1491, Benedetto in 1492, Pandolfo in 1494, Guglielmo in 1496, Bartolomeo in 1497, and Giovanni in 1498.
Leonardo wound up with nine half brothers and two half sisters on his father's side alone. Quite an extended family! Ser Piero's last son was bornwhen he was seventy-five years old. While he seems to have been unlucky in the choice of his first two wives, at least his third and fourth wives eventually produced some legitimate children.
In spite of his many options, Leonardo wasn't particularly close to any of his half siblings. By the time Leonardo's first half-brother, Antonio, was born, Leonardo was already twenty-four years old. He was working by this time, and wouldn't have been hanging out around the house anyway. While he was growing up in his father's house, therefore, Leonardo was effectively an only child. Not that his father was around all that much, but at least Leonardo didn't have to share his attentions!
Caterina's Other Children
Not much is known about the five children that Leonardo's mother, Caterina, had after she was married. These children included three half sisters and one half brother (nothing is known about the fifth), who were closer in age to Leonardo than his father's other children.
Records show that two of Caterina's daughters were named Piera (born in 1455) and Maria (born in 1458), and Leonardo notes in his writings that his half brother on his mother's side died from a mortar shot at Pisa. These other kids probably contributed to the distance between Leonardo and his mother. After all, how much attention could his mother have paid Leonardo with so many others to look after? Once Leonardo moved into his father's house, Caterina most likely devoted all her time to her legitimate children, with little to spare for poor Leonardo.
Caterina remained in the Vinci area for most of her life, although she came to live with Leonardo in Milan in 1493. She spent the last two years of her life there with her son, until her death in 1495. Letters from Leonardo to his mother, while Leonardo was away during this period, survive as part of two of his writing collections (codices), and illustrate their growing relationship. Leonardo's notes also document that he paid for Caterina's burial.
After Ser Piero's death in 1504, Leonardo's half brothers got greedy over their father's property. There was much in-fighting, and Leonardo had toreturn to Florence a number of times to settle disputes. Apparently, Ser Piero died without a will—not very good planning for a lawyer—which basically led to a feeding frenzy among his offspring. One of Leonardo's half brothers had become a notary like his father, and he took charge of the legal proceedings. He first challenged Leonardo's right to inherit from his father's estate, and then when Ser Piero's brother Francesco died a few years later, he objected to their uncle's will as well. However, he had a good reason to protest—Leonardo was supposed to inherit a sizable piece of land.
The litigation continued for a number of years. Leonardo kept going to Florence to deal with it, but all those trips delayed his work in Milan. While all this was going on, Leonardo wasn't exactly resting on his laurels; he was the court painter to King Louis XII of France (who happened to live in Milan). Leonardo had many paintings to complete, and the king probably wasn't too happy with all these interruptions to Leonardo's work. In fact, both the French king and Charles d'Amboise, among others, wrote letters to the Florentine authorities, asking them to speed up Leonardo's legal battle.
Nephew of a Genius
Although none of Leonardo's siblings were particularly artistic, he did have a nephew, Pier Francesco da Vinci (1531–1554), called Pierino, who was a decent sculptor. The son of Leonardo's half brother Bartolomeo, Pierino was apparently a child prodigy and became known as a talented sculptor who produced works all over Italy.
Pierino didn't have the breadth of genius of Leonardo, though he also didn't have that much time to experiment before his death in Pisa at the ageof twenty-three. In spite of his short career, the sixteenth-century art historian Giorgio Vasari dedicated a biography to Pierino, and one of Pierino's sculptures is in the Louvre. Maybe if he'd lived a little longer, Pierino would have shown more of Leonardo's legacy, but unfortunately we'll never know.