The Search for Leonardo da Vinci's Lost Masterpiece

Leonardo da Vinci's mural, The Battle of Anghiari, has not been seen in nearly 500 years. It was painted in the Palazzo Vecchio's Hall of the 500, and disappeared when the hall was remodeled by Giorgio Vasari starting in 1563. Was Anghiari destroyed? Or did Vasari build a brick wall in front of Leonardo's work before painting his own fresco over it? That prospect has tantalized art historians for centuries. IGERT-TEECH co-PI Maurizio Seracini has been involved in various on-and-off efforts to find the Battle of Anghiari for more than 30 years. Then in 2007 the Italian government appointed Seracini (by then a UCSD research scientist in the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology) to lead the scientific search for the mural using only non-destructive, non-invasive technologies.

IGERT-TEECH PI Falko Kuester and co-PI Seracini undertook detailed LIDAR and multispectral scans of the Hall of the 500 to produce a detailed, 3D computer model to aid in the search-and-discovery effort, and graduate students affiliated with the Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture and Archaeology (CISA3) spent extended periods of time in Florence. With the IGERT-TEECH funding, more students are now able to work in this historic building on one of the highest-profile projects in the world of cultural heritage. In 2011-12 Seracini resumes the search leading up to the use of a new type of imaging that has not be used in connection with cultural heritage until now. The nuclear technology - neutron activation analysis - has the potential to see inside the wall, and to determine at the atomic level whether the mural still exists, and if so, to determine what may be left of da Vinci's work.

Work to date on the Battle of Anghiari project came from Loel Guinness's Kalpa Group (Crown Sponsor), National Geographic Society, individual donors through the Patrons of World Cultural Heritage, and NSF for support of UCSD graduate students working on the project. CISA3 is currently in a development campaign to seek more than $2 million to bring the project to completion, but IGERT-TEECH Trainees will be in the Palazzo Vecchio in July and August 2011 to resume work on the project.


IGERT-TEECH co-PI Maurizio Seracini has been involved in the search for the Battle of Anghiari since 1975, when as a recent UCSD bioengineering alumnus, he joined the "Leonardo Project" (initially funded by the Armand Hammer Foundation, Kress Foundation and Smithsonian Institute) to determine whether the Leonardo mural survived. New imaging technologies provided tantalizing new clues, but those technologies fell short of being able to let researchers "see" clearly through the current mural and brick wall to see what might be left of the Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece. The project was halted in 1977, and a full-scale search for the mural did not resume until the year 2000, when international philanthropist and Kalpa Group president Loel Guinness agreed to fund the search. Adapting the latest refinements in multispectral imaging to the task, Seracini - then-president of his own art forensics firm, Editech, in Florence - undertook a methodical analysis of the Hall of the 500, reconstructing changes to the structure, and eventually discovering that there was a thin layer of air behind the brick wall on which the Vasari fresco was painted, and whatever was behind it. This could indicate that the brick wall was built on top of the original wall, raising hopes that Vasari did so to protect the da Vinci work that had been referred to as "the school of the world." In 2003, the search was suspended by local authorities, but Guinness' Kalpa Group remained the project's Crown Sponsor and supporter of efforts by Seracini to seek government approval for a resumption of the search. Guinness also made possible an epic TV documentary about the project that first aired on Britain's Channel 4 in 2006 (and shown in 2010 on the Smithsonian Channel in the U.S.). With new-found technical capabilities at the University of California, San Diego and Calit2, which he joined in 2006, Maurizio Seracini mapped out an ambitious plan to solve the Anghiari puzzle, and in 2007 the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage invited Seracini to resume the project.