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Many tourists walk past the city hall of Florence, the Palazzo Vecchio, and never realize the treasures inside.

In the mid 17th century, if you wanted to hide a huge fresco (painting on a plaster wall) painted by a master artist, where would you hide it? The answer is, as it has always been, right in front of everyone’s eyes. Read on.

Michelangelo and Da Vinci are two artists whose paths rarely crossed. Cross they did, however, in early 16th Century Florence.

Ruben’s Copy of Da Vinci’s Study – Battle of Anghiari

In 1503, the governing political body of Florence, lead by Gonfaloniere Piero Soderini, commissioned Da Vinci to paint the Battle of Anghiari. The fresco was to cover a portion of the wall in the city hall’s Salone dei Cinquecento, the Hall of the 500.  Michelangelo was commissioned to fresco the Battle of Cascina on the wall opposite Da Vinci’s work.

Why these subjects and location?

Michelangelo’s Battle of Cascina celebrated the defeat of Pisa in 1364. The Italian League, led by Florence, defeated Milan in 1440 at the Battle of Anghieri. This victory firmly placed the Florentine republic at the forefront of Italian politics for centuries.The Hall of the 500, largest meeting room in city hall, was an appropriate place for symbols of Florence’s major victories.

Study for Michelangelo’s
Battle of Cascina

Da Vinci, fed up with the frustrations of his consuming experiments with fresco techniques, fled the city in frustration. The project lagged in the midst of infighting and the ever present pressures of city budgets. The Battle of Cascina was abandoned when Pope Julius II called for Michelangelo’s  return to Rome. The study for Michelangelo’s work was later destroyed by his jealous rival, Bartolommeo Bandinelli.

Move ahead a little over one hundred years. In the mid-17th century, Georgio Vasari, a passionate admirer of Da Vinci’s work, accepted and completed the commission to complete the decorations in the Hall of the 500.

Endoscope through Vasari’s Fresco
Salone dei Cinquecento, Florence

In the 1970’s a certain art ‘engineer’, and National Georgraphic Fellow, by the name of Maurizio Seracini noticed a cryptic note on the south center panel of Vasari’s work: cerca trova (seek and you shall find).

Seracini’s interest was piqued. Ever since discovering those words, he has believed that Vasari was sending a message: “Seek the master’s work and you will find it.” Seracini believes that Vasari built a wall in front of Da Vinci’s work so that the 1503 work would be protected.

After decades of study, in late 2011, Seracini’s team used an endoscope to explore the space behind Vasari’s work. They made four important discoveries:

  • Samples of pigment that are nearly identical to those used on Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
  • Red pigment, associated with lacquer and unlikely to have been used on a plastered wall, was identified.
  • There are beige colored brush strokes on the wall behind Vasari’s work.
  • Scientists have confirmed that an air gap does, indeed, exist behind Vasari’s wall.

There is growing confidence, within the art and scientific communities, that there is a strong likelihood that a long last Da Vinci is about to be discovered.

Banner showing scale of Da Vinci’s
Planned Fresco for the Salone dei
Cinquecento

When in Florence, visit the Salone dei Cinquecento inside the Palazzo Vecchio to see what all the fuss is about.

IF YOU GO:

Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

Piazza della Signoria

Opening times and days: Use this link to verify. Odd/varying hours and open days.

www.museicivicifiorentini.it/en/palazzovecchio

Tickets: Euro 6.50 Full Price. Reduced Euro 4.50 for ages 18 – 25, over 65 and university students.

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