Banking on new research and modern detective technologies including DNA science, a team of specialists has come together to create new insights into the life of Italian genius Leonardo da Vinci.
The “Leonardo Project” is in pursuit of several possible physical connections to Leonardo – beaming radar, for example, at an ancient Italian church floor to help corroborate extensive research to pinpoint the likely location of the tomb of his father and other relatives.
A collaborating scholar also recently announced the successful tracing of several likely DNA relatives of Leonardo living today in Italy.
If granted the necessary approvals, the “Leonardo Project” will compare DNA from Leonardo’s relatives past and present with physical remnants — hair, bones, fingerprints and skin cells — associated with the Renaissance figure whose life marked the rebirth of western civilisation.
“Everyone in the group believes that Leonardo, who devoted himself to advancing art and science, who delighted in puzzles and whose diverse talents and insights continue to enrich society five centuries after his passing, would welcome the initiative of this team — indeed would likely wish to lead it were he alive today,” explained Jesse Ausubel, vice chairman of the Richard Lounsbery Foundation and sponsor of the project’s meetings.
Born in Vinci, Italy, da Vinci died in 1519 at age 67 and was buried in Amboise, southwest of Paris.
His creative imagination foresaw and described innovations hundreds of years before their invention, such as the helicopter and armoured tank. His artistic legacy includes the iconic “Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper”.
If DNA and other analyses yield a definitive identification, conventional and computerised techniques might reconstruct the face of da Vinci from models of the skull.
In addition to Leonardo’s physical appearance, information potentially revealed from the work includes his ancestry and additional insight into his diet, state of health, personal habits and places of residence.
It may also make a lasting contribution to the art world, within which forgery is a multi-billion dollar industry, by advancing a technique for extracting and sequencing DNA from other centuries-old works of art, and associated methods of attribution.
One objective is to verify whether fingerprints on Leonardo’s paintings, drawings and notebooks can yield DNA consistent with that extracted from identified remains.
If human DNA can one day be obtained from da Vinci’s work and sequenced, the genetic material could then be compared with genetic information from skeletal or other remains that may be exhumed in the future.
“The fact that a team of eminent scholars from different academic disciplines and parts of the world has united with the common objective of furthering investigation into one of the greatest geniuses is positive and very important,” added Eugenio Giani, president of the Regional Council of Tuscany.
The idea behind the project has united anthropologists, art historians, genealogists, microbiologists, and other experts from leading universities and institutes in France, Italy, Spain, Canada and the US, including specialists from the J. Craig Venter Institute of California which pioneered the sequencing of the human genome.
The project’s objectives, motives, methods and work to date are detailed in a special issue of the journal Human Evolution.