June 16, 2005— The long-lost "Battle of Anghiari," considered Leonardo da Vinci's best work, could lie hidden behind a wall in the council room of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, art experts announced at a conference.
Maurizio Seracini, a world-renowned expert in art diagnostics whose investigations are referred to in Dan Brown's best-selling novel "The Da Vinci Code," said he had found a suspicious cavity behind the council room's east wall.
The wall now houses a mural by 15th-century painter, architect and writer Giorgio Vasari.
"We believe that the lost fresco is hidden there. Indeed, Vasari himself left an important clue. On a tiny green flag in his painting, he wrote: 'Cerca, trova' — seek and you shall find," Seracini said.
The Battle of Anghiari was conceived in 1503, when Leonardo and Michelangelo received twin commissions to paint historic Florentine victories on opposite walls of the council room.
While Michelangelo never got past the cartoon stage with his Battle of Cascina, Leonardo began to paint the centerpiece of the ''Battle of Anghiari'' — known as the ''Fight for the Standard'' — on June 6, 1505, when he was 53.
"Representing vividly the rage and fury both of the men and the horses," as Vasari wrote in his 1550 book Lives of the Artists, the 15-square-meter fresco would celebrate the Florentine's victory over the Milanese troops in 1440.
According to Vasari, Leonardo abandoned the battle scene because of technical problems arising from his experimental mixing of oil paint and fresco.
Ten years after Vasari wrote his account, he was given the task of modifying the council room into the Salone dei Cinquecento, a hall that glorified the ruling Medici family. In the course of this work, Leonardo's mural disappeared.
Using laser scanners, X-ray machines and thermographic and radar equipment, Seracini first reconstructed the plan of the hall before Vasari's remodeling by finding the original windows and doors, now covered by walls.
He then focused on Vasari's work. Since walls were raised by 21 feet, they had to be reinforced.
Seracini's state-of-the-art technologies showed that Vasari reinforced the walls by building on them large stone frames, which he then filled with bricks to create a surface for his own paintings: the "Battle of Torre" on the west wall and the "Battle of Marciano" in the Chiana Valley on the east wall.
"We looked through Vasari's painted walls with a low-frequency sonogram machine. On the west wall we found nothing really significant. But on the east wall, beneath the Battle of Marciano, we spotted a 16-centimeter cavity. It is very likely that Vasari created it to protect Leonardo's work. Amazingly, this hollow space is right under Vasari's hint 'seek and you shall find,' " Seracini said.
Conclusive evidence could come from further analysis with microprobes. This would require another year of work, according to Seracini.
"Seracini's work has been extraordinary. Spectacular results could come out soon," leading Leonardo expert Carlo Pedretti, director of the Armand Hammer Center for Leonardo Studies in Los Angeles, said.