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UCSD researchers say they may be homing in on lost Leonardo fresco

March 12, 2012 |  1:38 pm

UC San Diego researchers announced Monday that they had reached a new milestone in their decades-long search for a lost masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci, saying they had found the type of material used by the Italian Renaissance master on a hidden wall in Florence's Palazzo Vecchio.

The announcement was met with immediate skepticism by other experts who noted that the results needed to be independently verified.

The researchers said that samples taken from the stone wall in the palazzo, now covered by another fresco, appeared to contain a black pigment used by Da Vinci on his masterpiece “Mona Lisa” and other surviving paintings.

Other samples from the wall contained a red lacquer-like substance and a beige material apparently applied with brushstrokes -- both consistent with the presence of a fresco, the researchers said.

“The evidence does suggest we are searching in the right place,” said Maurizio Seracini, the researcher who has led the quest for the lost masterpiece for three decades. He said the findings were “very encouraging” but cautioned they were still preliminary. “There is still a lot of work to be done to solve this mystery,” Seracini said.

The search for Da Vinci's massive lost fresco “The Battle For Anghiari” stirred controversy last fall when Seracini's team decided to drill holes through an existing Renaissance fresco by Giorgio Vasari, whose battle scenes decorate the ornate Hall of 500 in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence's seat of government. Earlier studies had found a stone wall hidden behind Vasari's work and separated from it by a small gap.

Hundreds of leading art historians from Europe and the United States decried Seracini's work, saying he was destroying a known masterpiece in a futile quest for a missing one.

Seracini said Monday's announcement was a vindication of his quest. But his critics are not convinced.

“The results are from a private lab and have not been verified by any third party,” said Tomaso Montanari, an Italian art historian who launched a petition to stop the work. “These data do not change the situation one iota.”