These days, announcements of Leonardo discoveries are rather routine. Details surrounding two of the latest cases however-the sudden cooperation of the notorious Italian bureacracy on a long delayed Leonardo excavation, and the use of forensic technology to confirm a previously dubious claim, continue to have us expecting the unexpected.
In 1563, the painter Giorgio Vasari included the cryptic message of “Cerca Trova”, a “Seek and You Shall Find” type detail in his large scale battle mural for one of the central rooms of the newly remodeled Palazzo della Signoria in Florence. Those words may finally be getting the follow up they deserve, as Matteo Renzi, Florence’s newly elected Mayor, is on the verge of giving the go-ahead for tests to explore the long-standing suspicion that Vasari’s mural is covering something up.
What’s hidden underneath? Leonardo’s most legendary mishap, “The Battle of Anghiari,” a work ordered by the newly restored Florentine Republic to adorn the walls of the Room of Five Hundred, then a central setting for Florentine political discussions. While the work’s size was grandiose-nearly three times the size of “The Last Supper,” its circumstances were more compelling. Its counterpart on the opposing wall, “The Battle of Cascina” was to be painted by Leonardo’s hated rival, Michelangelo.
This greatest of showdowns in art history, however, was not to be, as Leonardo abandoned the work due to the disastrous results of an experimental mix for the mural’s underpainting, which ended up dripping down to the floor. Nevertheless, the draft sketches that remained were hailed for decades as unsurpassed studies of anatomy and visceral motion, and faithfully copied by artists like Raphael and Rubens. Its pretty amazing to think of how high Leonardo was regarded, when guys like these were worshipping his screw ups.
Following a story reported by OMNP last Summer, a diminutive portrait previously doubted as a possible Leonardo is also on the verge of being authenticated. Peter Paul Biro, a forensic art expert who has pioneered the use of fingerprint technology to help settle art attribution disputes, confirmed the trace of Leonardo’s fingerprint last week, on the top left corner of a small Renaissance portrait of a woman- now believed to Bianca Sforza, daughter of the Duke of Milan.
The painting, which had sold as an Anonymous “German School” work of the “Early 19th Century” for $19,000 at Christie’s in 1998, now has estimates peaking at around $150 million. The Da-Vinci Code type hype behind these types of scenarios always focuses on the sensational, yet has anyone considered other possibilities? Leonardo, for one, had a sprawling studio, with several pupils who went on to become renowned painters in their own right. Just because Leonardo’s hand appears on this work, does not mean it is by his hand.