In the earliest days of trying to wrap my head around this project, even before I had proposed documenting the search to National Geographic Magazine, I was skeptical that the painting is likely to still survive behind the Vasari. My disposition wasn’t based on any particular evidence, or on cynicism–I just thought the “too good to be true” bar was pretty high.
After all, the thought that a lost da Vinci masterpiece, one that is said to have changed the course of the Renaissance, could still be sitting just a few inches out of reach strains credulity. The so-called clues that it may yet survive are tantalizing, or at the very least curious, yet they don’t go anywhere close to making it a comfortable bet.
I decided, however, that even a five percent chance of finding it was worth pursuing. Even then, I believed the odds exceeded that.
To me, there are too many curiosities surrounding that part of the wall, and it is the thought of it all being coincidence that strains credulity.
Even if the Dan Brown-like “Cerca Trova” was the the motto of a particular army of the day, as Dr. Carlo Pedretti suggests it may have been, why is it only painted on one of the flags? And why are the letters crudely scrawled over the flag, and not painted into the folds of the flags, as any good artist would have done? And finally, is it inconceivable that is could have been intended as a double entendre? Let’s put that aside for now. I think the “Cerca Trova” is the weakest of the clues.
The ground penetrating radar study of the wall, showing an incongruous thin air gap behind the Vasari brick wall and mural, is already well noted. What is more compelling is that it does not appear to exist anywhere else in the great hall.
Even less discussed is the apparent instability in the wall over that area, not evident anywhere else in the hall, expressed by a large crack in the overlying brick wall (and not, apparently in the underlying original stone wall) running from the lower right of Vasari’s stone frame, where it originates, and ending in the general area where the painting is believed to be hidden. I’m neither engineer or architect, but I would think it could suggest the brick wall is poorly attached to the underlying stone wall in that area.
A little-known oddity is revealed only by thermal imaging. Over that same area of interest, there are four evenly spaced square gaps in Vasari’s brick, on a level plane, filled only with mortar. The holes in the wall lacking brick were obviously deliberately made. Why? Seracini thinks they were possibly left to allow the humidity in the mortar to ventilate while the mortar in the wall dried, to avoid trapping moisture in the gap between the brick and stone wall. Perhaps they could also be the positions of anchors set to attach the brick wall to the stone wall.
All of that is engaging enough to stir the imagination. Add the historical research that also points toward that area of that wall as the likely location where Leonardo painted, such as can be found in the excellent (if not light-reading) ‘Finding Leonardo: the Case for Recovering The Battle of Anghiari’, by Rab Hatfield, professor at Syracuse University in Florence, and it’s time to ask: How many more of these curiosities can we handle before they ruin the suspense?
I have frequently fretted over whether I’m tilting at windmills, whether the risk is worth the time, effort, and neglect of other responsibilities. The exact moment I surrendered my angst, however, was over a dinner with a friend who had recently survived an exhausting struggle with cancer.
“Dave, Vasari would never have destroyed that painting.” she calmly said. “Of course it’s there.”