Art experts and scholars have been looking for Leonardo da Vinci’s “lost masterpiece” for years now, however, some individuals are now claiming that the search is pointless because the work doesn’t even exist.
On October 8th the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, Italy held a socially distanced round-table discussion with art historians Roberta Barsanti, Giancula Belli, Emanuela Ferrretti, and Cecilia Frosinini. The four historians all presented research that they claim proves the fact that da Vinci’s work is not behind a wall in Florence’s century-old town hall, the Palazzo Vecchio, as previously believed.
These claims aren’t taken lightly either, if the historians are correct they would be disproving decades worth of research performed by Maurizio Seracini. Seracini has long advocated for high-tech scientific testing of the town hall that he believed would potentially reveal the painting.
The painting in question is titled The Battle of Anghiari, and depicts a large battle scene that da Vinci was supposedly commissioned to paint in 1503. The historians published their own findings about the painting in an Italian language book in 2019, where they first made the shocking claim that the piece was never painted in the first place.
They’re basing these claims on the ground that the way in which the painting was prepared would make it impossible to execute given the placement. The painting was thought to be created using a technique that involved a layer of gesso and oil, however, da Vinci couldn’t have created an image using this technique because the paint wouldn’t have held, according to the historians. Francesca Fiorani is another art historian who discussed this painting in her recent novel, The Shadow Drawing: How Science Taught Leonardo to Paint.
“This process, which was always thought to be part of the painting, was instead meant for the preparation of the wall before the paint. Since the process to prepare the wall was not successful, Leonardo never painted on it. This means that Leonardo’s battle existed only as a cartoon, never as paint on a wall.”
The art historians also claimed at the Uffizi event that after they closely examined the traces of pigment found beneath the Palazzo Vecchio wall, they determined that a painting may have once been present there, however, it may not have even been done by da Vinci. However between 2009 and 2012, Seracini said he was able to match the same pigment to a kind of black pigment found in the Mona Lisa, one of da Vinci’s most famous paintings.
At the Uffizi, Frosinini brought up Seracini’s findings and rebounded by stating that the specific pigment found was used widely around Italy especially during that time period, making it impossible to accurately trace if the pigment was attached to the lost painting or not.
As of right now, the only existing evidence of what The Battle of Anghiari may have looked like as a mural is a full-scale cartoon made by da Vinci himself that was made in the late 15th century. While there is little to no evidence that this painting ever actually existed, art historians are likely to continue to search for it, as it’s regarded as one of the greatest art mysteries of all time.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.