Team May Have Found Long-Lost da Vinci Painting in Italy

The search is being spearheaded by UCSD engineering professor and lead researcher Maurizio Seracini (who is also a 1973 UCSD alum) and project manager Alexandra Hubenko. 

Data from the team’s analysis in late 2011 suggests that the piece is located behind Giorgio Vasari’s mural “The Battle of Marciano” in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy.

In 1503, da Vinci was commissioned to paint “The Battle of Anghiari” in the Hall of 500 of the Palazzo Vecchio. “Battle” is believed to be his largest painting. 

Then, in the mid-16th century, Giorgio Vasari enlarged and remodeled the hall, possibly hiding the painting behind one of six new murals on the walls.

“We’re trying to find out is if it’s there,” Hubenko said. “The research that we did late last year basically proved that we are looking in the right place, but we still have more research to do to definitively say ‘Yes, it’s there’ or ‘No, it’s not there’ and to be able to identify the state of its conservation.”

Seracini’s interest in the lost painting started in the 1970s. 

Since then, he has been pursuing it periodically based on access to funding and access to the building itself. 

There is a large body of background research spanning multiple disciplines about the Palazzo Vecchio. 

These studies include a high-resolution three-dimensional laser scan of the Hall of 500 and geo-radar scanning of the walls. 

The latter identifies the air gap where the team eventually performed its analysis.

The Palazzo Vecchio is both a government building, which houses the mayor of Florence’s office, and a museum that hosts many art pieces. 

Due to its dual nature and the rate at which government power exchanges hands, it was difficult to obtain permission. The team needed the approval of both the government and museum directorates.

“The Italian government tends to change pretty frequently,” Hubenko said. “So if we had gotten all of our permission and then the administration changed, it might be necessary for us to reapply for everything from the top.”

The team exercised extreme caution because of the delicate nature of the paintings. 

The team worked closely with art restorers, who removed parts ready for restoration and allowed the researchers to drill in those particular areas d. 

The original plan was to use non-invasive procedures. 

In the end, the team selected to use an endoscopy; this requires sticking a very thin tube (with a camera attached to the end of it) into a wall to examine the space behind the wall. 

The team also utilized a scraping tool to gather samples for analysis.

The team’s next step is to verify the painting’s existence. 

“It’s not up to us to make decisions about how to restore something or whether to take a wall down,” Hubenko said. “It’s our job as engineers and scientists to collect as much objective data as we can and help people like the restorers or the people in the cultural heritage field make decisions on how best to protect and preserve their cultural heritage.” 

The team is now waiting on Italian officials to convene and determine the next step for the project to take.

“We are waiting to hear from the Minister of Culture at the Italian parliament level and he is supposed to go to a meeting with the mayor in Florence and they’re supposed to discuss the project and decide what the next steps are in terms of proceeding,” Hubenko said. “We’re kind of in a holding pattern right now.”

Seracini is currently in Florence, Italy and could not be contacted as of press time.

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