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New Findings In Search For Lost da Vinci

Above: National Geographic Fellow Maurizio Seracini, foreground, and his team viewing footage captured by the endoscope behind the Vasari wall at Palazzo Vecchio. (DAVE YODER/National Geographic - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Aired 3/13/12 on KPBS News.

New evidence suggests UC San Diego researchers are on the right track in their search for a lost Leonardo da Vinci painting they believe is hidden behind another mural in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy.

A view of a banner showing the painting which might be hidden behind the Vasari wall on March 12, 2012, at its location in Florence's Palazzo Vecchio during a press conference. (DARIO THUBURN - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
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Above: A view of a banner showing the painting which might be hidden behind the Vasari wall on March 12, 2012, at its location in Florence's Palazzo Vecchio during a press conference. (DARIO THUBURN - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

It's the stuff of novels, movies and most certainly documentaries - a real life art mystery with a passionate lead character who happens to be a professor at UC San Diego. But you won't find scientist Maurizio Seracini on campus teaching or working in a lab these days. He's been busy searching for a lost Leonardo da Vinci painting and now he may be one step closer to finding it.

There is new evidence that the da Vinci painting "The Battle of Anghiari" is buried behind another mural in a hall in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy.

Seracini thinks the da Vinci was preserved by Renaissance painter Giorgio Vasari, who built a brick wall over it in 1563 and then painted his own mural, "The Battle of Marciano." Seracini has been trying to prove his theory for almost 40 years and now he has some encouraging evidence.

This picture released by the National Geographic on March 12, 2012, shows the endoscope and sampling tool used to investigate the air gap behind the Vasari mural in Florence's Palazzo Vecchio. (DAVE YODER/National Geographic - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
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Above: This picture released by the National Geographic on March 12, 2012, shows the endoscope and sampling tool used to investigate the air gap behind the Vasari mural in Florence's Palazzo Vecchio. (DAVE YODER/National Geographic - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

This photo shows an endoscope being thread into the Vasari wall to find signs of the lost Leonardo painting "The Battle of Anghiari" in Florence's Palazzo Vecchio. (DAVE YODER/National Geographic - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Enlarge this image

Above: This photo shows an endoscope being thread into the Vasari wall to find signs of the lost Leonardo painting "The Battle of Anghiari" in Florence's Palazzo Vecchio. (DAVE YODER/National Geographic - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Seracini and his team of researchers drilled six small holes into the Vasari mural late last year to analyze what's behind it. The drill areas were isolated to areas in need of renovation. They were able to extract a material sample similar in chemical composition to pigments found in the brown glazes da Vinci used on the "Mona Lisa” and “St. John the Baptist."

Seracini's research team includes members from the National Geographic Society (who are helping fund the research in return for rights to a television documentary) and scientists and engineers from the UC San Diego Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture and Archaeology (CISA3).

Together, they drilled into the Vasari mural using an endoscopic probe fitted with a camera. The procedure has attracted criticism for the damage it might do to the Vasari mural.

Through the drilling, they also found flakes of a red material that could be lacquer, as well as a beige material on the original wall that could have only been applied with a paint brush.

Seracini told Eurovision "the red lacquer is not a pigment usually used on murals, because it would not last, and it is expansive. The red lacquer is used for oil painting. And this element matches with Leonardo's plan to paint his 'Battle of Anghiari' with oil technique."

Researchers also confirmed the presence of an air gap between the brick wall on which Vasari painted his mural and the wall behind it. That discovery was previously made through the use of radar scans. No other location in the hall where the mural is located has this type of air gap.

In a press release issued today by UCSD's CISA3, Seracini said, “These data are very encouraging. Although we are still in the preliminary stages of the research and there is still a lot of work to be done to solve this mystery, the evidence does suggest that we are searching in the right place.”

"Cerca Trova" — seek and you shall find — is shown on a five-century-old fresco by Giorgio Vasari, "Battle of Marciano in the Chiana Valley," in the council hall of Florence's Palazzo Vecchio.

Above: "Cerca Trova" — seek and you shall find — is shown on a five-century-old fresco by Giorgio Vasari, "Battle of Marciano in the Chiana Valley," in the council hall of Florence's Palazzo Vecchio.

Seracini, an engineer by training and now one of the world’s leading experts in the field of art diagnostics, began searching for the da Vinci mural in the 1970s. He got his first clue when he noticed the words “cerca trova” — “seek and you shall find” — painted in Vasari’s fresco.

Seracini is the only real-life character mentioned in Dan Brown's mega-hit novel, "The Da Vinci Code." In the book, he's the man who "unveils the unsettling truth" about Leonardo da Vinci.

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