Leonardo da Vinci is seldom out of the news. The story of 2011 was the Salvator Mundi, a serene and ringletted image of Christ formerly considered the work of a pupil or imitator, but now – after restoration, analysis and a substantial helping of hype – attributed to the brush of the master. No sooner had this excitement died down than the long-running saga of Leonardo’s lost mural The Battle of Anghiari was back in the headlines. At a press conference in Florence last month, Maurizio Seracini, who has spent 35 years prospecting for it, announced the findings of his latest and most ambitious probe into the walls of the Palazzo Vecchio, where it was painted in the early 16th century. Samples extracted from a recess several inches behind the sumptuously frescoed east wall of the Sala dei Cinquecento have revealed traces of a black pigment ‘very similar’ to paint found in parts of the Mona Lisa, which Leonardo was working on at the same time as the Anghiari mural, and some flakes of what may be red lacquer. This harvest of particles is microscopic but substantial – in the sense that these are substances rather than theories and conjectures. Renaissance artists had their own jealously guarded recipes for paints and glazes – Leonardo was famously expert at mixing these cocktails – and if the chemistry and spectrometry of these fragments really does match those of other Leonardo productions it would certainly be significant.
LRB 26 April 2012 | PDF Download