Author Archives: mary bernard

Leonardo da Vinci and Ferguson, Missouri


Reading about the United States Justice Department investigation of Ferguson, Missouri has me thinking about what happened to Leonardo da Vinci when he was a young man.

The Justice Department investigation has decided that, after the botched investigation, the evidence was too contradictory to support a criminal prosecution of the Ferguson, Missouri officer who shot Michael Brown.  Instead, they are going after the City of Ferguson, for the way its criminal justice system operated.  DOJ is saying, among other things, that the criminal justice system in Ferguson became a money–making device, which violates due process of law.

Leonardo was a victim of a money–making criminal justice system: the Florentine “Office of the Night.”  The Night Office spearheaded a witch hunt for homosexuals that reached  its zenith around the time Leonardo was anonymously accused of homosexuality and publically arrested, then released for lack of evidence.  The anonymous accusation against Leonardo, three other men and a seventeen year old with no known connections simply labelled them as homosexuals, without explaining how “anonymous” could have known about the intimate lives of all five.  Under modern legal standards Leonardo could not have been arrested, much less jailed indefinitely based on such an accusation.  But that is precisely what happened.

During Leonardo’s time, over 50% of males in Florence were formally accused of homosexuality to the Night Office– sixty percent of men who lived to forty years of age.  It specialized in coerced confessions–but it did not get one from Leonardo.  Which is remarkable, once you understand how it worked.

I wrote about this in  Da Vinci Detects  – a murder mystery from Real History Mystery Press that details, as historical background, the abuses of the Night Office, including  the story of Leonardo’s  treatment and how it changed his life and reputation.  In Da Vinci Detects you will also meet other Renaissance greats, like Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Raphael and Botticelli, all of whom were together in Florence at the time, as a matter of historic fact.  Botticelli, in fact, was also anonymously accused to the Night Office.

Which brings me back to Ferguson, Missouri.  I won’t comment on  the DOJ’s allegations, which I have not followed  closely.  But here is the analogy to fifteenth century Italy:  under the Office of the Night, the judges, police, and anonymous citizen accusers were all paid directly out of the heavy fines imposed on convicted homosexuals–a system that was regarded as “liberal” at the time, since homosexuals were routinely executed elsewhere during that era.  But paying everyone involved for convictions resulted in huge numbers of accusations and arrests, numbers that dwarfed criminal prosecutions for homosexuality elsewhere.  And once arrested, the accused were subjected to a wide variety of pressures, occasionally including torture, to get them to confess.

All this is explained  at greater length and –ironically –in an entertaining way in Da Vinci Detects.

Do you see the analogy here?  When justice becomes about money,  weak and despised minorities get victimized.  In Renaissance Italy, it was homosexuals and juveniles.   In Ferguson, Missouri, it is blacks.  In both places, many were arrested on pretense.  Some were guilty, but many were innocent.  And the facts are so distorted by a biased system that it is impossible to know the guilty from the innocent. In this kind of justice “system,” people get labelled for bad reasons. Even though he was not convicted, Leonardo da Vinci has been labelled a homosexual pedophile for five hundred years, based on no evidence whatsoever.

Guilt or innocence becomes secondary when justice is about money.