Saturday, June 18, 2005

Does this Vasari hide a Leonardo?

From the Times:
IT IS a mystery that has confounded the art world for generations: what became of the Leonardo masterpiece, described as miraculous for its breathtaking beauty and scale, which has not been seen for 500 years? First, the facts: in 1505 Leonardo da Vinci began a vast work, The Battle of Anghiari, on a wall in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. The work, a whirl of horses and soldiers in battle, was to commemorate Florence’s defeat of Milanese forces in 1440. It was described at the time as a miraculous thing.
What happened next is less than clear. It is not even known if the painting was finished, or whether it later suffered irreparable damage.
Now art experts, backed by a British foundation, say that they are convinced that the masterpiece is hidden behind a later Renaissance fresco, and the one real person to feature in The Da Vinci Code wants to pierce a hole in it and use an endoscope to prove that the masterpiece lies behind it.
But Maurizio Seracini, an engineer who specialises in using medical techniques to investigate artworks, faces opposition from fellow art historians who claim that the lost Leonardo is a myth and fear that the huge Giorgio Vasari painting that covers an entire wall in the council chamber of the Palazzo Vecchio will suffer extensive damage for no good reason.
Leonardo was commissioned to paint The Battle of Anghiari in the early 16th century, during the short-lived Florentine Republic that overthrew the Medici dukes.
However, the Medicis returned to power, and in 1563 Duke Cosimo apparently instructed Vasari to paint The Battle of Marciano, depicting one of the Medicis’ own victories, apparently replacing Leonardo’s work.
Signor Seracini says that he does not believe that Vasari destroyed the Leonardo. “Instead he erected a wall between his painting and Leonardo’s,” he says. “In fact, I am convinced he used the Leonardo as a model for his own work.”
Vasari even left behind a clue worthy of Dan Brown, says Signor Seracini. One of the pennants in his battle scene bears the words Cerca Trova, Italian for “seek and you shall find”.
1 Leonardo is known to have finished at least the central part of The Battle of Anghiari. An eyewitnesses said it was “miraculous”
2 Vasari was an admirer of Leonardo and is unlikely to have simply painted over his work
3 Technical soundings have shown there is a cavity behind the Vasari, strengthening the theory that he put a protective wall in front of the Leonardo
4 Vasari painted the words Cerca Trova — seek and you shall find — in small letters on a pennant. It is high up and not obvious to the naked eye. It is the only writing in the painting
5 A masterpiece by Masaccio was also hidden behind a Vasari painting but was later rediscovered.

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