11. July 2008 · Comments Off on The Lost DaVinci · Categories: A Href, General, Science!, Technology

Or is it just hidden?

There’s some interesting stuff going on over in Italy, related to discovering artworks that have been painted over. Technology continues to amaze me (I’m easily amazed, but even so…).

Seems that once upon a time, DaVinci began a mural – a battle scene. For centuries, common wisdom was that he’d been unsatisified with his efforts, and destroyed the mural, and it was painted over by another artist, Giorgio Vasari. But in 1977, a young art apprentice was inspecting Vasari’s frescoes, and found two words painted near the top of the wall: “Cerca Trova.” The words were practically invisible from ground level. They translate to “Seek: You will find.”

Skeptical colleagues discounted the discovery. Yet they were the only words on the six enormous frescoes that cover the walls today. To Dr. Seracini, it could mean only one thing: The da Vinci mural must still be there, concealed behind Vasari’s paintings. “We are talking about the masterpiece of the masterpieces of the Renaissance,” says Dr. Seracini, “way more important than The Last Supper or the Mona Lisa.”

Da Vinci and those who commissioned the work left no direct account as to why the master gave up on the mural. Whatever its technical flaws, the painting’s inventiveness and savage passion dazzled artists throughout Europe for a half century before it disappeared from view. “One writer at the time says it is the most beautiful thing in existence, twice as beautiful as the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel,” says Syracuse University art historian Rab Hatfield, a member of the Italian commission overseeing the project.

Dr. Seracini, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, wasn’t the first art scholar to be seduced by the mystery of Leonardo’s missing mural. No one, however, has pursued it with such technical acumen.

Not long ago, art conservationists had only a trained eye to guide their work. Today, sophisticated scientific techniques are becoming part of every art expert’s tool kit. This spring in Vienna, for instance, restorers relied on X-ray fluorescence to analyze the solid gold of a priceless 16th Century sculpture. In France, University of Michigan physicists probed the walls of a 12th Century chapel with nondestructive terahertz beams. In Pittsburgh, NASA scientists used molecules of atomic oxygen to wipe a Warhol painting clean of the lipstick smear left by a vandal’s kiss.

Since that discovery in 1977, Seracini has made use of every technological advance to pursue his search for the DaVinci mural. That search will culminate next year, using a portable neutron-beam scanner that is still in development. Seracini is hopeful the hidden DaVinci will be found.

I hope so, too.


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