Leonardo da Vinci is perhaps one of the most famous—and most mysterious—figures of the Renaissance. Extraordinarily gifted by all accounts, only around 16 of his works have survived the test of time. But armed with new information, a team of scientists is poised to add a new painting to that short list and solve the 500-year-old mystery of the legendary Battle of Anghiari—and National Geographic is along for the journey.
In the public eye for a scant half-century, admirers who scarcely noticed the Mona Lisa waxed poetic about the Battle of Anghiari, and came to Florence to copy it. An epic tangle of horses and men, it represented something totally new in art. The battle is captured at a critical moment, the action at its peak—muscles taut, eyes wild, weapons seconds from smashing down. But only 50 years later, another Renaissance master, Giorgio Vasari, was brought in to remodel the hall—and replace the Leonardo. Legend has it that he simply entombed the painting within the wall, as it was. Problem is—no one knows where that was.
Armed with thermal scans, LiDAR imaging, architectural diagrams, and 36 years of accumulated research, Maurizio Seracini is spearheading a new effort to pinpoint the lost masterpiece. He’ll have a tight deadline of only seven days, and his team burns the candle at both ends to make sure everything is in place so that they don’t lose a minute.
Joining his team to document this ground breaking investigation is National Geographic photographer Dave Yoder who has been following this story for four years. As Seracini and his team work their instruments, Dave takes us from Florence to Milan, Munich, and Oxford on the trail of these coveted copies—including one that is linked to Leonardo’s original draft, and one whose whereabouts are unknown, and has been lost to the public eye since 1939!
Arriving back in Florence, the team is in place and the scaffold rises. The media onslaught begins—and the bureaucrats aren’t following the party line. From one day to the next, the battle of wills plays out in the Italian press. Will we, won’t we, how will we, where will we, and when? Two days after the project is set to commence, we’re still locked at a standstill. But finally—the permits are in place, and the team is deployed, with only five days left. But there’s another surprise for the team—they won’t be working in their carefully selected locations. To look for it, Seracini’s team needs to go through the existing Vasari masterpiece, which challenges every tenet of the restoration team’s duty. So they’re going to let the team work, but they have to follow their rules. After weeks of careful planning, Seracini’s team has to adapt to a new plan—on the fly.
The scaffold is up. The teams are in place. The equipment is primed. A restorer carefully works away a piece of paint and plaster—a previous restoration patch that does no damage to anything by Vasari. And with the whining crescendo of the drill, the investigation is underway. Five days. Six holes. We’re looking for a needle in a haystack—and we just might find it.
Tune in to Finding the Lost da Vinci Sunday at 9P et/pt to see if they do. Learn more about the mission here and check out a clip from Sunday’s show: