Leonardo was commissioned by the Magistrati of Florence to paint a mural on the walls of the Palazzo Vecchio in 1505. The subject of the mural was the Battle of Anghiari, a stunning victory for the Florentines that kept central Italy under their political control.While it is recorded that daVinci completed one panel of his wall mural, it was believed damaged at the time he painted it. Shortly thereafter, the Medici family assumed power of Florence and had the Palazzo Vecchio completely remodeled.
Many have believed Leonardo’s unfinished mural was destroyed when the Medicis took over. Recently, it has inspired years of research and detective work by an art scholar and a researcher who say the mural still exists, hidden in a tiny cavity in the Palazzo.
When Maurizio Seracini was a bioengineering student at UC San Diego in the early 1970’s, he also studied with Carlos Pedretti. A UCLA professor and art scholar, Pedretti theorized that The Battle of Anghiari was never destroyed, supporting these claims with letters ostensibly written by some who described seeing the painting 50 years after it was believed to have disappeared. Seracini, inspired by his own interest in art and Pedretti’s theory, took up Pedretti’s challenge: to use technology to locate the lost masterpiece.
Says Seracini, “There is no evidence that this painting was destroyed...Moreover, the Medicis did not have the technology to move or destroy the painting.”
After 30 years of research, he obtained financing and a city permit, allowing work to begin in the Palazzo Vecchio. A few years ago, though, funding ran out; he has since found new funding but has lost the permit.While evidence that the painting is there is perhaps scant, a cryptic inscription on a Vasari fresco in the Palazzo Vecchio inspires hope: Cerca, trova—seek and you shall find. Seracini’s radar and X-ray scans have detected a cavity behind the section of wall the message was painted on, one large enough to house the work.
Seracini claims his hi-tech techniques, including radiation and electromagnetic tests, will detect and evaluate paint pigment in the wall cavity without damaging Vasari’s painting.
Seracini’s municipal permit to continue investigation expired in 2002 and efforts to renew it are at a standstill. For now at least, the mural masterpiece remains a Mona Lisa mystery as the world waits for word on whether the ardent quest for it is more than a mere addition to fiction. ■ Special thanks to Ariel David