'Proof' that long lost Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece lies behind Florence painting

12 March 2012

Art 'detectives' searching for a long-lost Leonardo masterpiece in a palazzo in Florence have found traces of paint which match that used by the Renaissance genius for the Mona Lisa.

Researchers claim the discovery is the first definitive proof that the Leonardo da Vinci work lies hidden beneath a huge battle scene subsequently painted in the same spot by the artist Giorgio Vasari.

More work needs to be done, but the findings seem to have solved a 500-year-old mystery and could represent one of the biggest discoveries in the history of art for decades.

Leonardo was commissioned in 1503 to paint an enormous tableau, The Battle of Anghiari, in the Hall of the Five Hundred in Palazzo Vecchio, the historic seat of government in Florence.

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 disappeared when Vasari, himself an admirer of Leonardo's work, was commissioned to enlarge and completely remodel the imposing hall, painting six new murals on its walls. It had long been assumed that the Leonardo work was obliterated.

After centuries of speculation about whether it may have survived, researchers led by Dr Maurizio Seracini, of the University of California San Diego, drilled a series of tiny holes in existing cracks and fissures in the Vasari battle scene.

They pushed probes and micro-cameras through the holes and discovered traces of red, white, orange and black pigment – evidence of a large painting.

The black pigment was made up of an unusual combination of manganese and iron and corresponds exactly to the black paint used in Leonardo's Mona Lisa and St John the Baptist.

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