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Da Vinci masterpiece believed to be hiding behind Giorgio Vasari painting

London, Tue, 13 Mar 2012 ANI

London, Mar 13 (ANI): Art 'detectives' attempting to find Leonardo da Vinci's long lost masterpiece in a Florence palazzo have found traces of paint which match the ones used by him for the Mona Lisa.


A team of researchers has used miniature cameras and tiny endoscopic probes to peer behind an immense 16th century battle scene that adorns the walls of the Hall of the Five Hundred in Palazzo Vecchio, the historic seat of government in Florence.


The delicate operation, the culmination of a 35-year quest by an Italian scientist specialising in art mysteries revealed traces of pigment in a cavity that has remained hidden for five centuries.


The probe discovered a unique signature of the Renaissance polymath - fragments of black pigment which exactly match the black paint that he used in his most famous work, the Mona Lisa.


The black pigment was made up of an unusual combination of manganese and iron and corresponds exactly to paint used not only in the Mona Lisa but also in another celebrated Da Vinci work, St John the Baptist.


"This was a type of paint specifically used by Leonardo and not found in the works of other artists," the Telegraph quoted Maurizio Seracini, the leader of the team, as saying.


He claimed that the discovery of the pigment was the first definitive proof that the Da Vinci work lies hidden beneath a huge battle scene subsequently painted in the same spot by the artist Giorgio Vasari.


Da Vinci was commissioned in 1503 to paint an enormous tableau, 'The Battle of Anghiari', to decorate the walls of the Hall of the Five Hundred.


Contemporaries hailed the work, which depicted a battle between Milan and the Italian League, led by the Republic of Florence, as "the school of the world", but it eventually fell out of favour.


It disappeared 60 years later when Vasari, himself an admirer of da Vinci's work, was commissioned to enlarge and completely remodel the hall, painting six new murals on its walls.


One of them, "The Battle of Marciano in the Chiana Valley", replaced Da Vinci's work.


For centuries there was speculation that Vasari may have preserved the great artist's work by building a false wall on which he painted his own battle scene.


Last year, using radar and X-ray technology, researchers found that there was indeed a gap between the Vasari work and the original wall of the palazzo.


Prof Seracini, of the University of California at San Diego, has spent the last 35 years trying to prove that the palazzo conceals one of the great undiscovered treasures of the Renaissance.


He believed the existence of the lost Da Vinci was indicated by a cryptic clue which Vasari painted on his work for the benefit of future generations - a military banner which bears the words "Cerca Trova", or "Seek and you shall find".


To prove his theory, his team drilled a series of tiny holes no more than two centimetres wide in existing cracks and fissures in the Vasari.


The scientists pushed probes and micro-cameras through the holes and discovered traces of white, orange and black pigment.


The probes also found an organic red material which may be lacquer or varnish, used to protect the painting, and a patch of beige material that appears to have been applied with brush strokes.


"The data is very encouraging. Although we are still in the preliminary stages of the research and there is a lot of work to be done to solve this mystery, the evidence does suggest that we are searching in the right place," Prof Seracini said.


The scientists were only allowed to drill on the periphery of where they believe the Battle of Anghiari is hidden - they hope to unearth more evidence if the Italian government allows them to drill in the centre of the painting.


National Geographic sponsored the project and is documenting the findings.


Prof Seracini said it would be possible to remove the Vasari fresco, take out the Leonardo work and replace the Vasari without damaging it.


The question now is whether the Italian authorities will give permission for the Vasari painting - a valuable work in its own right - to be removed from the wall to reveal Da Vinci's work. (ANI)


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