Tomb of Leonardo da Vinci

Tomb of Leonardo da Vinci

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Tomb of Leonardo da Vinci - History

The cultural and political ambition of Charles d'Amboise, Count of Chaumont and governor of Milan on behalf of the French king Louis XII, heralded a revival of the golden age of patronage associated with Ludovico il Moro. As a sign of continuity with the Sforza tradition, Charles requested Pietro Soderini, gonfalonier (chief magistrate) of the Florentine Republic, to invite Leonardo to Milan, where he spent the years 1508 to 1513. Involved in the plans for Santa Maria alia Fontana, he designed for the governor a suburban villa with gardens and water displays. He painted a Madonna and Child for King Louis, supervised the second version of the Virgin of the Rocks, and created his highly original St John, on the precedent of his Florentine Angel of the Annunciation. He made studies for the Trivulzio Monument, and pursued his research into subjects that had always occupied his mind, codifying and arranging his notes on a broad range of scientific topics.

Francesco de' Tatti,
The Crucifixion of the Bosto Polyptych, 1517, detail, Sforza Castle, Milan.
This provincial painter, with his robust, immediate style and folkloric approach, provides some interesting military detail in the background to this scene, notably the outlines of the Sforza Castle and troops of the French army. The French, who had conquered the duchy in 1499, ruled until 1513 when they were overthrown briefly by Massimiliano Sforza, son of il Moro.

King Louis XII and his wife Anne of Brittany were portrayed by the French medallist Leclerc. The bronze medals, belonging to the Carrand Collection, are today housed in the Museo Nazionale, Florence.

Andrea Solario, Portrait of Charles d'Amboise, after 1507, Musee du Louvre, Paris.
Summoned to the court of the French king (1507), the Lombard painter applied lessons learned from Leonardo. The thematic choice of landscape, the rhythmical handling of space, and the psychological interpretation of the subject were modelled upon Antonello and the Flemish school, still strongly rooted in local tradition.

Giovan Gerolamo Savoldo, Portrait of a Gentleman in Armour
(traditionally identified as Gaston de Foix), c.1510-20,
Musee du Louvre, Paris, from the royal collections at Fontainebleau.
The nephew of Louis XII, and the king's deputy in Lombardy, the valiant young commander,
fought against the armies of the Holy League brought together by Pope Julius II.
He was killed at the victorious battle of Ravenna in 1512.

From 1508 to 1510 Leonardo made plans for the monument to be erected in the Trivulzio Mausoleum in San Nazaro, Milan, in memory of Marshal Gian Giacomo Trivulzio. The commission was never completed, and all that is left is a series of drawings embodying new ideas for representing the heroic theme of the horse and the man on horseback, previously addressed in the Adoration of the Magi, the Sforza Monument, and the Battle of Anghiari. While tackling the problems that this project entailed, Leonardo returned to the never-realized idea of a Treatise of the Horse. Alongside the naturalistic and scientific studies of equine anatomy, poses, and attitudes, were sketches modelled upon the subjects depicted on antique coins and jewels remembered from the Medici collections in Florence, and consonant with the heroic and celebratory nature of the subject in hand.

Interior of the Trivulzio Mausoleum,
built after 1512 by Bramante.

Leonardo da Vinci, Rearing Horse, 1503-04, Royal Library, Windsor.
The opportunity to revive a sculptural project abandoned years before led Leonardo to look afresh at themes that had already interested him in the latter years of the 15th century.

Leonardo da Vinci
, Study for an Equestrian Monument, 1510-12,
Royal Library, Windsor.
Underneath the group there is an arch of triumph in the antique style.

Leonardo da Vinci, Studies for the Equestrian Monument, 1508-10, Royal Library, Windsor.
Four prisoners were envisaged by the sides of the tomb, as in the sepulchre of Julius II.

Leonardo da Vinci,
Study for the Trivulzio monument
Pen, ink and red chalk on paper
Royal Library, Windsor

Leonardo da Vinci,
Equestrian monument
Black chalk on paper
Royal Library, Windsor

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Historians Identify 35 Descendants of Leonardo da Vinci

When Leonardo da Vinci died in 1519, the artist, inventor and all-around Renaissance man left behind 6,000 journal pages and dozens of personal questions that remain unanswered to this day. This week, however, a pair of historians in Florence shone some light on the enigmatic genius, revealing Leonardo’s genealogy, including newly discovered burial grounds for his family, and 35 living descendants.

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Historians Alessandro Vezzosi and Agnese Sabato used documents and estate papers in Italy, France and Spain to reconstruct 15 generations of Leonardo’s family, as Stephanie Kirchgaessner reports at the Guardian. The team used Leonardo's father, a Florentine legal notary named Ser Piero da Vinci, as a starting point since the artist left no known children.

Most information on Leonardo’s family comes from the records of his paternal grandfather, Antonio, who notes his birth. A tax record mentions that the artist’s mother was Caterina, the wife of Achattabriga di Piero del Vaccha da Vinci—which makes Leonardo illegitimate—though some researchers believe his mother was an Arab slave living in Vinci.

The historians focused on Leonardo’s paternal line. “We checked documents and tombs as far as France and Spain in order to reconstruct the history of Leonardo’s family,” Vezzosi tells Rossella Lorenzi at Discovery News. “We even found [an] unknown tomb of Leonardo’s family in Vinci.”

The most exciting find, however, is that 35 people living around Florence and surrounding villages, including Vinci, are genealogically related to the Leonardo, including a policeman, a pastry chef, an accountant and a retired blacksmith. One of his descendants, Elena Calosi, an architect from Empoli reacted to the news in La Repubblica, saying, “Obviously I’m surprised, but happy, happy also for my grandmother who is no more, who was proud to have the name Vinci,” as Kirchgaessner reports.

Other descendants say that there were rumors or stories in their families that they were related to Leonardo, but they never had hard evidence. The BBC reports that one notable descendant, Oscar-nominated director and opera designer Franco Zeffirelli, whose original last name is Corsi, mentioned that he was related to da Vinci while accepting the Leonardo prize from the Italian president in 2007.

While the historical detective work is convincing, not everyone thinks the evidence is bullet proof.

“Regardless of the archival material, there is a strong probability of the male line especially being broken over such a large number of generations,” Kevin Schürer, pro-vice-chancellor for research at the University of Leicester tells Lorenzi.

The fate of Leonardo’s remains—and his potential DNA—have been disputed. After the artist died in 1519 near Amboise, France, his body was buried in a chapel that was later destroyed during the wars of the 16th century. Later, his remains were purportedly moved to the nearby Saint-Hubert Chapel, where he currently has a marked grave, but some doubt the authenticity of that burial site.

Vezzosi and Sabato are aware of the potential for DNA to add another layer to their work, and they are planning a two-day international conference for May to discuss how to work with the descendants to isolate Leonardo’s genetic material.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

His other most famous masterpiece is “The Last Supper,” which you call “the most spell-binding narrative painting in history.” Take us inside its creation—and explain why it is such a supreme work of art.

The Duke of Milan asked him to paint it on the wall of a dining hall of a monastery. Unlike other depictions of “The Last Supper,” of which there were hundreds at the time, Leonardo doesn’t just capture a moment. He understands that there is no such thing as a disconnected instant of time. He writes that any instant has what’s come before it and after it embodied into it, because it’s in motion.

So he makes “The Last Supper” a dramatic narrative. As you walk in the door, you see Christ’s hand then, going up the arm, you stare at his face. He’s saying, “One of you shall betray me.” As your eyes move across the picture, you see that sound almost rippling outward as each of the groups of apostles reacts.

Those nearest to him are already saying, “Is it me, Lord?” The ones further away have just started to hear it. As the drama ripples from the center to the edges, it seems to bounce back, as Christ reaches for the bread and wine, the beginning of what will be the institution of the Eucharist.

About Leonardo

The heavens often rain down the richest gifts on human beings, but sometimes they bestow with lavish abundance upon a single individual beauty, grace and ability, so that whatever he does, every action is so divine that he distances all other men, and clearly displays how his greatness is a gift of God and not an acquirement of human art. Men saw this in Leonardo. (Vasari, Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects)

Leonardo: From Florence to Milan

Leonardo was born illegitimate to a prominent Tuscan family of potters and notaries. He may have traveled from Vinci to Florence where his father worked for several powerful families including the Medici. At age seventeen, Leonardo reportedly apprenticed with the Florentine artist Verrocchio. Here, Leonardo gained an appreciation for the achievements of Giotto and Masaccio and in 1472 he joined the artists’ guild, Compagnia di San Luca.

Leonardo da Vinci, Head of Leda, c. 1504-06, pen and ink over black chalk, 14.7 x 17.7 cm (Royal Collection trust, UK)

Because of his family’s ties, Leonardo benefited when Lorenzo de’ Medici (the Magnificent) ruled Florence. By 1478 Leonardo was completely independent of Verrocchio and may have then met the exiled Ludovico Sforza, the future Duke of Milan (Ludovico ruled as regent from 1481-94, before becoming Duke). In 1482, Leonardo arrived in Milan bearing a silver lyre (which he may have been able to play), a gift for Ludovico Sforza from the Florentine ruler, Lorenzo the Magnificent. Ludovico sought to transform Milan into a center of humanist learning to rival Florence.

Leonardo da Vinci, Superficial anatomy of the shoulder and neck, c. 1510, pen and ink over black chalk, 29.2 x 19.8 cm (Royal Collection trust, UK)

Leonardo flourished in this intellectual environment. He opened a studio, received numerous commissions, instructed students, and began to systematically record his scientific and artistic investigations in a series of notebooks. The archetypal “renaissance man,” Leonardo was an unrivaled painter, an accomplished architect, an engineer, cartographer, and scientist (he was particularly interested in biology and physics). He was influenced by a variety of ancient texts including Plato’s Timaeus, Ptolemy’s Cosmography, and Vitruvius’s On Architecture. Leonardo is credited with having assisted Luca Pacioli with his treatise, Divina Proportione (1509). Joining the practical and the theoretical, Leonardo designed numerous mechanical devices for battle, including a submarine, and even experimented with designs for flight.

In a now famous letter (likely written in the early 1480s), Leonardo listed his talents to the future Duke, focusing mostly on his abilities as a military engineer. The letter begins:

Having until now sufficiently studied and examined the experiments of all those who claim to be experts and inventors of war machines, and having found that their machines do not differ in the least from those ordinarily in use, I shall make so bold, without wanting to cause harm to anyone, as to address myself to Your Excellency to divulge my secrets to him, and offer to demonstrate to him, at his pleasure, all the things briefly enumerated below.

In ten short paragraphs, Leonardo enumerated the service he could perform—he said (among other things) that he could build bridges, tunnels, fortresses, and “make siege guns, mortars and other machines, of beautiful and practical shape, completely different from what is generally in use.” What might seem amazing to us is that it is not until the very last paragraph that Leonardo mentions art, and he mentions it so modestly! Here is what he wrote:

In time of peace, I believe I am capable of giving you as much satisfaction as anyone, whether it be in architecture, for the construction of public or private buildings, or in bringing water from one place to another. Item, I can sculpt in marble, bronze or terracotta while in painting, my work is the equal of anyone’s.

Return to Florence, then France

In 1489, Leonardo secured a long awaited contract with Ludovico and was honored with the title, “The Florentine Apelles,” a reference to an ancient Greek painter revered for his great naturalism. Leonardo returned to Florence when Ludovico was deposed by the French King, Charles VII. While there, Leonardo would meet the Niccolò Machiavelli, author of The Prince and his future patron, François I (who ruled France from 1515-47). In 1516, after numerous invitations, Leonardo traveled to France and joined the royal court. Leonardo died on May 2, 1519 in the king’s chateau at Cloux.

Leonardo’s death and the changing status of the artist

Vasari, who wrote Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (1550), had this to say about Leonardo’s death:

Finally, having grown old, he remained ill many months, and, feeling himself near to death, asked to have himself diligently informed of the teaching of the Catholic faith, and of the good way and holy Christian religion and then, with many moans, he confessed and was penitent and although he could not raise himself well on his feet, supporting himself on the arms of his friends and servants, he was pleased to take devoutly the most holy Sacrament, out of his bed. The King, who was wont often and lovingly to visit him, then came into the room wherefore he, out of reverence, having raised himself to sit upon the bed, giving him an account of his sickness and the circumstances of it, showed withal how much he had offended God and mankind in not having worked at his art as he should have done. Thereupon he was seized by a paroxysm, the messenger of death for which reason the King having risen and having taken his head, in order to assist him and show him favour, to then end that he might alleviate his pain, his spirit, which was divine, knowing that it could not have any greater honour, expired in the arms of the King.

This story is a good indication of the changing status of the artist—Leonardo, who spent the last years of his life in France working for King Francis I, was often visited by the King (remember that the artist was considered only a skilled artisan in the Middle Ages and for much of the Early Renaissance). In the High Renaissance, in contrast, we find that artists are considered intellectuals, and that they keep company with the highest levels of society. Quite a change! All of this has to do with Humanism in the Renaissance of course, and the growing recognition of the achievement of great individuals. Artists in the Early Renaissance insisted that they should be considered intellectuals because they worked with their minds as well as with their hands. They defended this position by pointing to the scientific tools that they used to make their work more naturalistic—the study of human anatomy, of mathematics and geometry, of linear perspective. These were clearly all intellectual pursuits.

Leonardo da Vinci, Portrait of a man in red chalk (self-portrait), c. 1512, red chalk on paper (Biblioteca Reale, Turin)

Look closely at this self-portrait. Isn’t it clear that Leonardo thought of himself as a thinker, a philosopher, an intellectual?

Leonardo’s naturalism

Ancient Greek physicians dissected cadavers. The early church’s rejection of the science of the classical world, along with the possibility of bodily resurrection led to prohibitions against dissection. Both Leonardo and Michelangelo performed them—probably exclusively on the bodies of executed criminals. According to his own count, Leonardo dissected 30 corpses during his lifetime.

Tomb of Leonardo da Vinci - History

One walks, one sees things. I don’t carry a guidebook, in part because of the weight and volume, in part because a guidebook can’t possible have all the information I might want to know, in part because I don’t want to be guided by someone else’s experience. In this day and age, it’s possible to carry a tiny microcomputer that has pretty much all of the knowledge of the universe as long as there’s a wifi signal, but I don’t want to spend my time attached to such a device, or distracted by it, or reliant on it, or isolated by it. I read ahead of time, rely on the collective knowledge from previous travels through Europe, and talk with locals along the way. Often I’m surprised by what I encounter even though I could have read about it in a guidebook or if I had asked the right person the right question. It’s fun.

When I was walking along the Loire River from Orléans toward Tours, the weather was exceptionally cold and the famed vineyards shrouded in low frozen fog. The multitude of castles loomed in the grayness of the sky, very prettily. I enjoyed the landscape and the villages, and witnessed why the Loire Valley is a UNESCO cultural heritage region. Not bad walking, even in the cold lock of winter.

I got to the town of Amboise early enough in the day to allow me to take a tour of its famous chateau – uncommon for me, but the pilgrim house has no heat, so I was looking for something constructive to do for the rest of the afternoon. I got a good-hearted pilgrim discount on the entrance fee for the asking. It was cold outside, and like most medieval castles, the thick stone walls hardly made it cozy inside. I would have been warm had I spent the balance of the afternoon in one of the may touristic pubs, but that gets old. Inside the gleaming white chateau, after ascending the stone ramp that thousands of knights on horseback used in the past, I made a watercolor of the interior of the Guard’s Hall just because I could stand in front of a roaring fire while I painted. I stood a while longer and read about the history of the castle from the pamphlet. More than the standard cool stuff – lots of kings of France did their thing here, influential battles, fine wine, powerful women - Catherine de Medici called this place home for a while and even raised Mary Queen of Scots here – who knew?

On the grounds is an ornate little chapel named for Saint Hubert, the patron of hunters. Consequently, the animal and forest motif is strongly carved in the white stone. I studied the exterior a bit and read that it’s King Charles VIII and his wife, Anne of Bretagne, carved in worship over the entrance. I did a painting of King Chuck because I noticed that he sports a string of scallop shells around his collar – a sign that he at least supported, if not actually made, a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Rock on, 15th-century dude.

The exceptional cold sent me inside the chapel. Frozen water makes watercolor painting challenging. A grand surprise was seeing the unassuming tomb of none other than Leonardo da Vinci. I didn’t read ahead in the little site plan of the chateau grounds. What luck. In all my travels to Florence and other places where Leo did his thing, I never picked up on where he spent his final days. Here at Amboise, it turns out. In a fine chapel. Behind the chateau, his accommodation as a paid guest of the King, contains scores of his design inventions and writings. It explained why Mona Lisa ended up in France.

I saw a lot of tombs – the whole of the Basilica of Saint Denis north of Paris is a giant graveyard of all the kings and queens of France except Charlemagne. The Church of Saint Eutrope is similarly something of a giant tomb of the Saint, and San Juan de Ortega has a pretty whooey resting place, and all happy surprises to guidebook-less me. If I were to pick a favorite, it would be Leonardo’s, that fellow engineer.

Leonardo da Vinci

The Uomo Universale of the Italian Renaissance and possibly the most brilliantly creative man in European history&mdashLeonardo da Vinci, was born on 15 April, 1452 in the village Anchiano, near the small town Vinci, in the vicinity of Florence, Italy. He was an illegitimate son of the 25 years old Ser Piero Fruosino di Antonio da Vinci (1427-1504), a prominent notary of Florence, and a 15 years old native peasant woman&mdashCaterina di Meo Lippi (1537-1595).

The extremely gifted intellectually and physically child grown up in the farm of his grandfather in Anchiano, without his mother, who was arranged to marry a local farmer, being considered as a unsuitable party for the promising notary. There is no information if Leonardo has attended a school at all, or was educated by the village members of da Vinci family, which took care for the child&mdashhis uncle Francesco (1436-1506), grandfather Antonio (1373-1468) and grandmother Lucia (1393-1470). Even in these old days, when every man, who can read and count, has been considered as a highly educated, Leonardo remained uneducated and later on will worry about this fact.

When Leonardo was 15, his father noticed the extreme talent of the boy and apprenticed him to Andrea del Verrocchio, a leading artist of Florence and a characteristic talent of the Italian Renaissance. Leonardo came also into contact with such great artists as Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, and Lorenzo di Credi. After completing his apprenticeship, Leonardo stayed on as an assistant in Verrocchio’s shop, and his earliest known painting is a product of his collaboration with the master. In Verrocchio’s Baptism of Christ from 1475 Leonardo painted part of the painting, and already in this young age his genius was apparent.

In 1478 Leonardo set up his own studio. The culmination of Leonardo’s art during his first period in Florence is the magnificent altarpiece Adoration of the Magi, commissioned in 1481 by the monks of San Donato a Scopeto, but left unfinished by Leonardo.

Leonardo left Florence in 1482 to accept the post of court artist to the Duke of Milan Ludovico Sforza and stayed there for 17 years. This is the most productive period of the genius. In this time he composed the greater part of his Trattato della pittura, created extensive notebooks (with the so important for us sketch), that demonstrate the marvelous versatility and penetration of his genius, painted Madonna of the Rocks and Last Supper (see the photos below). As court artist he also organized elaborate festivals, paid attention to problems of town planning, created many architectural projects. Leonardo also worked on an equestrian monument to the duke’s father, Francesco Sforza. The work was never cast, and the model, admired by his contemporaries, perished during the French invasion of 1499. In 1494 Leonardo took in Milan his mother Caterina, who died next year.

Leonardo’s Madonna of the Rocks

In 1500 Leonardo returned to Florence, where he was received as a great man. Here he painted his prominent paintings Leda and the Swan, Mona Lisa and Battle of Anghiari. In 1502 he entered the service of Cesare Borgia as a military engineer.

Called back to Milan in 1506 by the French governor in charge, Leonardo worked on an equestrian statue project, but he produced no new paintings. Instead he now turned more and more to scientific observations. He filled his notebooks with data and drawings for: anatomy, fire-arms, the action of water, the flight of birds (leading to designs for human flight), the growth of plants, and geology.

In 1513 Leonardo went to Rome, where he remained until 1516. He was much honored, but he was relatively inactive and remarkably aloof from its rich social and artistic life. He continued to fill his notebooks with scientific entries.

In 1516, the French king, Francis I, invited Leonardo to his court at Fontainebleau, gave him the title of first painter, architect, and mechanic to the king, and provided him with a house&mdashthe mansion Clos Lucé in Royal Château d’Amboise, France. There Leonardo designed grand projects: the palace and the ideal town at Romorantin, the draining of the Sologne marshes, the surprising staircase with double turns at Chambord, among others. When Leonardo died in Clos Lucé on 2 May, 1519, the King Francis I said: "For each of us, the death of this man is a bereavement, since it is impossible that we will ever see his like again."

Within his own lifetime his extraordinary powers of invention, his "outstanding physical beauty", "infinite grace", "great strength and generosity", "regal spirit and tremendous breadth of mind" were admired by his contemporaries. He was a friend of many prominent people of his time, to mention only the mathematician Luca Pacioli, with whom he collaborated on a book in the 1490s, Cesare Borgia, in whose service he spent the years 1502 and 1503, Niccolò Machiavelli and many others.

Leonardo’s influence over the all painting art was enormous. His influence on science was much less, although his drawings may have been known for example to the anatomist Andreas Vesalius and had an effect on his great publication of 1543. However, most of Leonardo’s scientific observations remained unknown until the same questions were again investigated in later centuries.

Portrait of Leonardo from his protege Francesco Melzi

The first requisite for immortality is death.
Stanisław Jerzy Lec

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Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci was born in Vinci, near Florence in Italy in 1452.

At the age of fifteen, he was sent to train as an artist’s apprentice in Florence.

He worked with other apprentices in the studio of the famous painter and craftsperson, Andrea del Verrocchio.

Here he learned the skills of painting and sculpture.

His first painting of note was one of an angel in the corner of a larger work by Verrocchio called the “Baptist of Christ.” This angel was apparently painted so well that it caused Verrocchio to never paint again.

Leonardo da Vinci was accepted into the Florentine artists’ guild at the age of twent and spent the next ten years working there, sometimes for Lorenzo de Medici.

In 1482, he went to Milan to work for Ludovico Sforza, who often used him to organize engineering works and festivals.

Around this time also, Leonardo da Vinci was compiling notebooks full of ideas for tanks, submarines, helicopters and parachutes. These notes were written in ‘mirror writing’ – from right to left.

During his seventeen years in Milan, da Vinci painted only six paintings, including “The Virgin of the Rocks” and “The Last Supper,” which is a fresco painted onto a wall of a monostary in Santa Maria delle Grazie.

In 1499, Leonardo left Milan and went to Florence where, among other work, he painted “The Mona Lisa,” which is now on display in Paris’ Louvre Museum.

Sfumato is used in this painting which is a Renaissance technique which causes the lady’s hair and clothing to blend into the background.

Leonardo da Vinci also studied science, dissecting corpses in his study of anatomy and drawing plants, horses and birds in flight in his effort to further the study of biology.

DNA Testing Dilemmas

The aforementioned bones, attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, would be rediscovered in 1874 and reburied in the chapel of Saint-Hubert at the Château d'Amboise. What confuses things, however, is that researchers can’t get permission to conduct DNA testing and further analysis of the bones due to ethical reasons.

Ironically, another team of researchers seeking to unveil the true identity of the mysterious model who sat for Leonardo da Vinci’s world renowned painting, The Mona Lisa , had issues with DNA testing as well, but for different reasons. As Liz Leafloor reported in a previous Ancient Origins article , Italian archaeologists claim to own fragments of bone which they are certain belonged to Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo —the woman thought to have sat for da Vinci’s famous painting — but the remains cannot be DNA tested due to their decayed condition.

Mona Lisa, one of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous paintings. ( Public Domain ) Researchers have tried studying the DNA of bone fragments which belonged to Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo —the woman thought to have sat for this painting — but the remains cannot be DNA tested due to their decayed condition.

On the other hand, historian Agnese Sabato and Alessandro Vezzosi, founders of an organization titled Leonardo da Vinci Heritage to safeguard and promote his legacy , have been searching for biological traces of da Vinci since 2000 without any particular success. “We pieced together an archive of hundreds of Leonardo’s fingerprints, hoping to get some biological material. At that time, cracking da Vinci’s DNA code was just a wild dream. Now it’s a real possibility,” Vezzosi tells Seeker .

An illustration of Leonardo da Vinci's presumed remains in Amboise, France. ( Museo Ideale Leonardo da Vinci )

Lost Leonardo da Vinci Mural Behind False Wall?

"I'm convinced it's there," researcher says, though evidence is inconclusive.

By poking high-tech instruments through the wall of one priceless 16th-century mural in Italy, researchers announced Monday that they think they've located the first "encouraging" evidence that a second masterpiece—this one a lost Leonardo da Vinci—is hidden beneath.

Using a tiny camera, the researchers snapped pictures of a telltale hollow space behind Giorgio Vasari's "Battle of Marciano"—and a brick wall—in the Hall of the 500 in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence's city hall. (Video: 360-degree laser scan of the Hall of 500.)

They also uncovered black pigment and lacquer used in painting—clues that the lost Leonardo may have long ago been saved from destruction.

The findings are inconclusive for now—the Leonardo da Vinci investigation was interrupted by political and public outcry—but they're the first tantalizing leads in a mystery that spans more than four centuries.

The lost work in question is "The Battle of Anghiari" and may stretch more than 20 feet (6 meters) long and 10 feet (3 meters) tall.

According to historical records, Italian statesman Piero Soderini in 1502 commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to paint the scene of Italian knights defeating Milanese forces in 1440 on Tuscany's plain of Anghiari.

Leonardo, it's said, used the opportunity to experiment with a new oil-painting technique, but it ended in failure (five Leonardo da Vinci facts).

In the 1550s Vasari was hired to remodel the Hall of 500—named after the 500 members of the Republic of Florence's Grand Council—and paint several enormous murals, each dozens of feet high.

One mural was to be painted over Leonardo's unfinished work, but at least one tale describes Vasari as a Leonardo admirer who couldn't bring himself to destroy the work.

Maurizio Seracini, an art diagnostician at the University of California, San Diego, and a National Geographic Society fellow, has searched for clues about the painting for 36 years. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)

"Since the very first day of my research, the goal was to find where 'The Battle of Anghiari' could have been painted . and if it's still there," Seracini says in an upcoming National Geographic Channel documentary titled Finding the Lost da Vinci. (Video: Preview Finding the Lost da Vinci.)

Lost Leonardo: Seek and We Shall Find?

Admiring artists reproduced Leonardo da Vinci's lost mural before its fate was lost in the sands of time (pictures of the Leonardo reproductions)—one of the most famous reproductions of the lost Leonardo being in Paris's Louvre Museum.

Although stunning, the reproductions are not Leonardo's original. The copies almost certainly leave out details lost by shrinking a wall-size mural onto a canvas, and in some cases, it's thought, entire characters have been left out.

As a result, researchers such as Seracini have searched high and low—quite literally—for clues.

A break came in the 1970s, when Seracini climbed a scaffold in front of Vasari's painting and spied two words inscribed in a flag: "cerca trova," which translates to "seek and you shall find." Seracini took it as a cryptic cue that Vasari had built a false wall in front of the Leonardo.

A team led by Seracini eventually got permission to scan the entire Hall of 500 with high-frequency surface-penetrating radar. The scanning revealed some sort of hollow space—only behind the section of mural with the inscription.

To peek behind Vasari's fresco, the team planned to drill 14 strategically located centimeter-wide (half-inch) holes in the work. But an outcry ensued after journalists publicized the project.

"It quickly became very, very political. But they were making little boreholes some 30 to 40 feet (9 to 12 meters) above the ground," said art historian Martin Kemp of the University of Oxford, who wasn't involved in the work.

"In my opinion, that kind of damage can be repaired invisibly."

Despite the public firestorm, National Geographic's Seracini and his team were given a week to continue their work in late 2011—but not in the 14 spots they'd hoped to investigate.

To avoid damaging original portions of Vasari's painting, museum curators permitted Seracini and his team to drill only into existing cracks and recently restored spots.

Many of the locations danced on the periphery of the hollow space, but the researchers struck gold: a hollow space behind 6.7 inches (17 centimeters) of fresco and brick.

They inserted an endoscopic camera into the void and took video of rough masonry work as well as spots that appear to have been stroked by a brush (more on the science of the search for the lost Leonardo da Vinci).

Grit removed from the hole was analyzed with x-rays, and the results suggested it contained traces of black pigment.

Based on the x-ray data, Seracini thinks the black pigments are similar to those found in brown glazes of Leonardo's "Mona Lisa" and "St. John the Baptist." (Read about the struggle to save Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" from warping.)

Red flakes also pulled from inside the wall could be lacquer—something that wouldn't be present on a normal plaster wall.

That Seracini found components unique to Renaissance painting leads him to call the work "encouraging evidence," yet he bemoaned the fact that further samples couldn't be collected in the time allotted.

"[U]nless I get hold of a piece of it, and prove that it is real paint, I cannot say anything definite, and that's very frustrating," Seracini says in the documentary.

One of the Most Famous Discoveries of a Century?

Peter Siddons, a physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory who has verified famous works of art (including a painting by Rembrandt) with particle accelerators, said it seems pretty clear something is behind the Vasari mural.

"There doesn't seem to be enough details out there yet, but based on what has been shared so far, I believe there is a painting. They found paint and they found brushstrokes," Siddons said.

"To jump and say it's a Leonardo da Vinci? That's another question.

"Still, someone took the trouble to build this false wall" he said. "I certainly think that's intriguing."

Oxford's Kemp deemed the results interesting but far from conclusive, since wealthy Renaissance Florentines usually painted their walls for decoration—so the pigments may be from that, not Leonardo's work.

"We can't even be certain which of the long walls Leonardo painted on, as the early accounts are not explicit by any means," he said. "Still, this is a suggestive result at this stage to say, Let's go on a bit further."

Seracini's investigation is on hold again and may not proceed until further political issues in Italy are resolved.

If and when the investigation continues—and if the team recovers evidence of the work—Kemp said it will be one for the record books.

"I think this needs to be resolved. We can't just leave it hanging in the air," Kemp said.

"If it's discovered, it would be one of the most famous discoveries of a century."

Watch the video: Leonardo da Vincis notebook: The Codex Leicester (July 2022).


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