The Italian Almanac

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Detail from a copy of Leonardo da Vinci's long-lost Battle of Anghiari, based on preliminary sketches and copies of the work during the artist's life.

Italian News - April 1

The hunt is back on for Leonardo da Vinci's greatest lost fresco. Florence has asked the world's top Leonardo experts to help solve the riddle of a 'secret' wall in Palazzo Vecchio that may hide the fresco of the Battle of Anghiari. The panel will examine new evidence as well as poring through past studies and Florentine archives, Florence art officials announced Monday.

The discovery of the wall last summer raised new hopes of finding this Holy Grail of the art world. Art sleuth Maurizio Seracini - the one real-life character in Dan Brown's bestselling thriller the Da Vinci Code - told reporters the wall he'd found could hide "significant" traces of the fresco. And the world's top Leonardo scholar, Carlo Pedretti, was convinced the fresco could be hiding inside the palazzo's Salone dei Cincequento. Pedretti also rejected suggestions that a later artist, Giorgio Vasari, might have damaged the fresco when he was told to cover it.

The Battle of Anghiari - described by sculptor Benvenuto Cellini as "the school of the world" - has long been known from sketches and copies. But the original was thought lost for ever - a victim of Leonardo's typically unorthodox decision to jettison the traditional technique of applying paint to wet plaster. Leonardo needed time for his painstaking approach and so used oils directly on the dry plaster in Palazzo Vecchio, the symbol of Florentine civic pride. Like the Last Supper in Milan it soon began to crumble, helped on its way by a thunderstorm that hit the unfinished building. Leonardo gave up and headed for Milan.

Though it has been wiped off the art map, the fresco's birth was well documented, and we know that Leonardo started painting it on June 6, 1505.