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Almost five hundred years since Leonardo death and we are still talking about him! Talk about enduring fame. The latest story comes from the LA Times this morning and it involves a long lost Leonardo fresco painting covered over by another fresco painting. In Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio you will find the work of Renaissance artist Georgio Vasari, a huge wall fresco. The Italian painter and architect Giorgio Vasari is more famous for his biographies of Italian artists than any of his own works. The importance of his written work cannot be overestimated and it is largely due to Vasari that we have such a wealth of information about the artists of the Renaissance.So what does this have to do with Leonardo and why are we writing about this? Simple enough it involves Leonardo and new technology. Researchers have descended on Palazzo Vecchio to uncover a mystery…
(LA Times) “Their goal was to solve one of art history’s greatest mysteries — whether Vasari preserved a long-lost work of Leonardo Da Vinci, “The Battle of Anghiari,” behind his own. Using a tablet computer (don’t know the make) With the swipe of a finger, one of the researchers used custom-built software to virtually peel away layers of pigment, plaster and brick, stripping the centuries-old wall to its bones. Drawing on decades of studies that shot energy through the wall at various wave lengths, it produced shadowy pictures of ancient fissures, bricked-over windows and a mysterious air pocket. The research, described by team members and demonstrated in San Diego, is an attempt to use technology to accomplish something that has eluded art historians for centuries — determine the fate of the work.” (link to article)
What’s interesting to me is the why? What’s the point of all this? We already know how brilliant Leonardo was, is it that important that we try and preserve every last bit of his legacy even if it means destroying another masters work? I sense the modern world’s preoccupation with celebrity at work here. Are the Italians trying to promote tourism by creating this controversy? This from the Times article “Critics are accusing researcher Maurizio Seracini and his partners — the ambitious young mayor of Florence and a team at National Geographic, which is funding the quest in return for rights to a television documentary — of malpractice.
One government conservation expert monitoring the project resigned in protest. More than five hundred people — including leading art historians — signed a petition to halt the work. A local prosecutor opened a criminal investigation.”
I don’t want to sound cynical but this may be the down side of technology and progress. In our pursuit to know everything about our world we are willing to plunder the present to unearth the past in hopes that it will enhance our future. Look if somehow technology can X-ray the hidden Leonardo masterpiece recover it and then reprint it on a huge piece of canvas then I am all for it, but to destroy Vasari’s art to unmask a hidden Leonardo that the City Leaders of Florence decided to paint over five hundred years ago is a wasted effort.Perhaps Leonardo didn’t like the work and agree to have it painted over. Reports from the era say Leonardo was testing a new technique, which failed. In some areas of the painting the colors ran together and the plaster separated from the wall. It is also unlikely that Vasari would’ve destroyed a painting by Leonardo as he admired the master’s work and spoke eloquently about the crumbling fresco.
By no means do I compare myself to Leonardo, but as an artist there are some pieces I’ve created that shouldn’t be viewed as I dislike them and wish I had never done them. When I feel that way I destroy them if I can. Unfortunately I do not control all my works so I have to live with inferior work out there for everyone to see. Perhaps Leonardo felt this way about the “lost fresco”. After all the technique he used to paint it failed and maybe he thought it would turn into a mess after a few years and that was intolerable for the master. We will never know because Vasaro painted over the work long after Da Vinci passed away in the late 1500’s.
The wind up for me is this whole controversy smacks of commercialism on all accounts. Seracini seems to want the popularity that comes with this “Indiana Jones” type of searching for lost treasure while the City Fathers of Florence and all the members who sanctioned this research are looking for PR to promote business. And I say fine, let everyone do as they please because it brings attention to the arts and that’s a good thing. In the end let’s hope that Vasari’s work is not ruined and somehow Leonardo’s lost masterpiece is somehow revealed.