The Search for the lost "Battle of Anghiari"
“And having climbed the stairs of the Great Hall, diligently take a look at a group of horses and men, a battle piece by Leonardo da Vinci, which will strike you as a miraculous thing.”--Anton Francesco Doni (1549)
In 1505, Leonardo da Vinci began painting a vast mural in the Hall of Five Hundred in the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Renaissance Florence. Although he never finished the work, some modern art historians consider the part he did paint, a larger-than-life clash of horsemen now referred to as The Battle of Anghiari, to be a turning point in Renaissance art. The painting was visible for more than 40 years, and two generations of artists admired and copied its unprecedented expression of form and fury.
In 1563, however, the hall underwent sweeping renovations, during which its walls were frescoed by the artist Giorgio Vasari, covering Leonardo’s masterpiece. The painting vanished from history, and no known records explain its fate. Some art historians including Carlo Pedretti, a leading authority on da Vinci, believe that Vasari would never have destroyed a masterpiece by the legendary Leonardo, whom he admired greatly, and that he must have found some way of preserving it behind his own fresco (in fact, on at least two occasions when Vasari covered masterworks by Giotto and Masaccio elsewhere in Florence with his own work, he left the underlying art intact). What’s more, within his own battle scene in the Hall of 500, and over the approximate area where Leonardo’s masterpiece is believed to lie, Vasari painted the only words in all of his vast frescoes covering the walls; “Cerca Trova”—“Seek and you will find.” The purpose of this exhortation is unknown.