Revealing 'The Battle of Anghiari'

[Note: This article is reprinted with permission from the National Geographic Society website; to follow future NGS updates on the Battle of Anghiari project, visit]

Florence, Italy, Nov. 26, 2011  — It is a mystery worthy of a detective novel. A mural by Leonardo da Vinci, rumored to have been his greatest artistic accomplishment, lost centuries ago. Another mural, painted over the first, in response to changing political alliances. A present day "art diagnostician" who has been searching for the lost mural for 30 years. A clue hidden in the later mural: a tiny banner reads "Cerca Trova," or "seek and ye shall find." Could it be that the "Lost Leonardo" is not really lost but lies, still intact, under this signpost?
Rubens' Battle of Anghiari
The Battle of Anghiari by Rubens

"The Battle of Anghiari" was painted by Leonardo da Vinci in 1505 to commemorate the 1440 battle on the plain of Anghiari between Milan and the Italian League led by the Republic of Florence. The Florentines emerged from the conflict as the most important power in central Italy, re-establishing Papal powers and Italian politics for years to come. In 1503, da Vinci was commissioned by Gonfaloniere Piero Soderini to paint the mural in the Hall of the Five Hundred of the Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of government in Florence.

Da Vinci used the commission as an opportunity to experiment with new mural techniques, which did not meet with the results he hoped, but nonetheless this masterpiece was later called "the school of the world." In the mid-16th century the hall was enlarged and completely remodeled, and Giorgio Vasari, himself an admirer of da Vinci’s work, painted six new murals over the east and west walls. "The Battle of Anghiari" was assumed to have been destroyed in the process.

Seek and Ye Shall Find

Dr. Maurizio Seracini, National Geographic Fellow and a cultural heritage engineer and founder of the Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture, and Archaeology (CISA3), at the University of California, San Diego, is leading this effort to find the "Lost Leonardo." One of the world’s leading experts in the field of art diagnostics, Seracini began searching for the mural more than 30 years ago. He felt that Vasari left the small banner reading "Cerca Trova" as a clue for future generations. He conducted laser, thermal, and radar scans of the hall, which confirmed that there is an air gap present between the brick wall on which Vasari painted his mural and another wall behind it—suggesting that Vasari may have preserved da Vinci’s masterpiece by building a wall in front of it.

Seracini's team is based at the UCSD division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) and includes scholars from the National Science Foundation’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program. The Calit2/IGERT team is now in Florence and will soon enter another phase of research using cutting edge technology to attempt to look through the wall, and into the past, to see if the painting is really there.

"Maurizio and the CISA3 team are the real-life high tech version of Indiana Jones," say two of the project's principal sponsors, Paul and Stacy Jacobs. "They are tracking down a lost, but legendary, da Vinci painting using ingenuity, wit and determination.  The words and spirit of "Cerca trova" captured our hearts and we are very proud to support this noble quest."

The search for Leonardo da Vinci's "The Battle of Anghiari" conducted in the Palazzo Vecchio is a project led by the National Geographic Society and UC San Diego's Center for Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture and Archaeology, in cooperation with the City of Florence.

National Geographic Channel is documenting the entire process for a world premiere special to be broadcast globally early next year.

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