A team of eminent specialists from a variety of academic disciplines has coalesced around a goal of creating new insight into the life and genius of Leonardo da Vinci by means of authoritative new research and modern detective technologies, including DNA science.

The Leonardo Project, founded in 2014, has inspired and united anthropologists, art historians, genealogists, microbiologists, and other experts from leading universities and institutes in France, Italy, Spain, Great Britain, and the USA, including specialists from the J. Craig Venter Institute of California, which pioneered the sequencing of the human genome.

The work underway resembles in complexity recent projects such as the successful search for the tomb of historic author Miguel de Cervantes and, in March 2015, the identification of England’s King Richard III from remains exhumed from beneath a UK parking lot, fittingly re-interred 500 years after his death.

Like Richard, Leonardo was born in 1452, and was buried in a setting that underwent changes in subsequent years such that the exact location of the grave was lost.

If DNA and other analyses yield a definitive identification, conventional and computerized techniques might reconstruct the face of Leonardo. In addition to Leonardo’s physical appearance, information potentially revealed from the work includes his ancestry and additional insight into his diet, state of health, personal habits, and places of residence.

The team met again on 2 and 3 May 2016 at which time they published a special issue of the journal Human Evolution with essays describing the project, Leonardo’s biography, his father’s tomb in Florence and a ground penetrating radar survey taken of its home church, and the family tree of Leonardo, which can be traced to the present day, including two living relatives. Announced on 15 April 2016 with Leonardo Vive (Leonardo Lives), Leonardo’s extended family included Dina (pictured above), who descended from the artist’s half brother Domenico Matteo di Ser Piero da Vinci. Says Alessandro Vezzosi, director of the Museo Ideale Leonardo da Vinci and author of the article tracing Leonardo’s family tree: “It is certainly a surprising likeness [to Leonardo’s supposed self-portrait drawing in Turin], but we are not drawing any conclusion from it.”

The team plans to conclude its research in 2019, the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death.

Leonardo da Vinci (left) and a living descendant (right).

Posted by Anne Leader

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