Arts, Science

Scientists Find Hidden Mural By Leonardo Da Vinci

Image: UCSD Jacobs
A closeup of the camera used to investigate the murals. Image: UCSD Jacobs

Researchers were investigating a mural painted by Italian artist Vasari in Florence, Italy last year.

They had a hunch that on a wall behind Vasari’s mural, another mural might be lurking — one painted by the famous Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci.

The researchers were right.

They put a probe with a camera on it through the first mural.

Underneath, they found the Leonardo painting, The Battle of Anghiari.

The research team was led by scientist Maurizio Seracini and included specialists from the National Geographic Society, several universities and the City of Florence.

Both paintings were on a wall in the Hall of the 500 in Florence.

The research team was following up on a long-standing theory that the Italian artist Vasari had built a wall on top of the precious Leonardo painting in order to protect it.

When the team analyzed the paint from the underneath-mural and compared it to the type of paint Leonardo used in some of his other paintings including the Mona Lisa, the paint matched. This suggested that the underneath-mural was likely painted by Leonardo.

The scientists used high-tech machinery to analyse the paint samples taken from the Leonardo mural. For instance, they used something called an SEM-EDX, which stands for “scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy.” The SEM-EDX identified the chemicals found in the paint sample and compared them with the chemicals known to be in the brown glazes on Leonardo’s Mona Lisa.

Researchers believe that the Leonardo mural is unfinished and that Vasari was hired to create another one on top of it because Leonardo’s painting simply wasn’t working. Leonardo was using new paint techniques that didn’t quite work on the surface he was painting; the paint kept dripping and the colours bled into one another. So he never finished it. Today, however, the painting is considered extremely valuable.

Wait, there’s more to the story

Image: UCSD Jacobs
Maurizio Seracini seen here examining the Vasari mural. Image: UCSD Jacobs

This month, a small (115×86 cm) painting done on a wooden panel was discovered in Japan. The painting, known as the Doria painting, was a copy by Leonardo of some of his Anghiari mural. Painters often create smaller sketches and copies when they are doing a larger work.

The Doria painting had been stolen from its owners in Naples, Italy and went on a complicated, years-long journey through Switzerland, Germany and New York before turning up in Japan.

The Doria painting will be shown in Florence in 2013 and then will be loaned to the Fuji Art Museum in Tokyo, Japan for four years.

In the meantime, work at the Hall of the 500 has been halted by the mayor of Florence, in order to protect the Vasari mural.

By Jonathan Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
This is a story with many interesting details.

Here are two more for you:

1) The scientist, Maurizio Seracini was featured in the best-selling novel and movie The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown.

2) One of Seracini’s clues that there was a hidden painting was a soldier in Vasari’s mural. The soldier carries a flag with the inscription (in Italian) “He who seeks, finds.”

What details in the article do you find the most interesting? What details do you think have been left out—in other words, what questions do you still have?

Reading Prompt: Reading Unfamiliar Words
Reread the name of the device they used, “scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy.”

Underline all of the base words you see within the larger words. Looking at these underlined words, take a guess about what this tool does. Considering what you know about today’s story, does your guess make sense?

Primary, Junior, & Intermediate
Predict the meaning of and rapidly solve unfamiliar words using different types of cues, including: semantic (meaning) cues (e.g., prefixes, suffixes, base words, phrases, sentences, and visuals that activate existing knowledge of oral and written language) (OME, Reading: 3.2).

Grammar Feature: Nouns / Verbs
Some words can be nouns or verbs depending on how they are used within a sentence.

The word “painting” can be a noun (“Leonardo’s painting is called The Mona Lisa.”) or a verb (“Leonardo is painting a mural.”).

Think of 2 other words that can be either a noun or a verb, depending on how they’re used, and use each in a sentence.

Can’t think of any? If you truly get stuck, check out this list of hundreds of such words.