A team of Italian researchers claim that they have discovered two relics belonging to Leonardo da Vinci, which could them help in tracing the DNA of the legendary polymath whose work epitomized the Renaissance.
A Discovery of Immense Historical Importance? Could These be Da Vinci’s Relics?
The peculiar relics were spotted during a long-term genealogical study of da Vinci’s family. “I can’t yet disclose the nature of these relics. I can only say that both are historically associated with Leonardo da Vinci. One is an object, the other is organic material,” Alessandro Vezzosi, director of the Museo Ideale in Vinci, told Seeker. The significance of such a discovery – if the relics are authentic– would be of immense historical value, since there are no known traces left of the Italian genius.
According to the “mainstream” version of history, the remains of Leonardo da Vinci, who died in 1519 in France, were scattered before the 19th century. However, in 1863 a corpse and large skull were discovered at the church of Saint-Florentin, where da Vinci was initially buried. Unfortunately, the place was pillaged during religious conflicts back in the 16th century and was entirely ruined in 1808. However, a stone inscription reading LEO DUS VINC was uncovered near the corpse, hinting at da Vinci’s name.
Leonardo da Vinci's Tomb in Saint-Hubert Chapel (Amboise). (CC BY SA 3.0)
DNA Testing Dilemmas
The aforementioned bones, attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, would be rediscovered in 1874 and reburied in the chapel of Saint-Hubert at the Château d'Amboise. What confuses things, however, is that researchers can’t get permission to conduct DNA testing and further analysis of the bones due to ethical reasons.
Ironically, another team of researchers seeking to unveil the true identity of the mysterious model who sat for Leonardo da Vinci’s world renowned painting, The Mona Lisa, had issues with DNA testing as well, but for different reasons. As Liz Leafloor reported in a previous Ancient Origins article, Italian archaeologists claim to own fragments of bone which they are certain belonged to Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo —the woman thought to have sat for da Vinci’s famous painting — but the remains cannot be DNA tested due to their decayed condition.
Mona Lisa, one of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous paintings. (Public Domain)
Researchers have tried studying the DNA of bone fragments which belonged to Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo —the woman thought to have sat for this painting — but the remains cannot be DNA tested due to their decayed condition.
On the other hand, historian Agnese Sabato and Alessandro Vezzosi, founders of an organization titled Leonardo da Vinci Heritage to safeguard and promote his legacy, have been searching for biological traces of da Vinci since 2000 without any particular success. “We pieced together an archive of hundreds of Leonardo’s fingerprints, hoping to get some biological material. At that time, cracking da Vinci’s DNA code was just a wild dream. Now it’s a real possibility,” Vezzosi tells Seeker.
An illustration of Leonardo da Vinci's presumed remains in Amboise, France. (Museo Ideale Leonardo da Vinci)
The Hunt for da Vinci’s DNA Will Continue for a Couple More Years
The research is part of a broader project to trace da Vinci’s DNA by 2019, in honor of the 500th anniversary of his death. “The hunt for Leonardo DNA can now rely on a good, well-referenced genealogy,” Sabato told Seeker, explaining that all of the direct descendants come from Leonardo’s father. The researchers will be in communication with many international universities in order to achieve the widest possible scientific investigation on the relics and da Vinci’s descendants. The plan is to conduct DNA analysis on the relics and compare it to da Vinci’s descendants and bones found in recently identified da Vinci family burials throughout Tuscany.
Leonardo da Vinci statue outside the Uffizi, Florence, by Luigi Pampaloni. (Public Domain)
The researchers know that none of this will be easy and there’s a good chance that they won’t be able to extract any usable DNA from the relics.
Despite the difficulties waiting for them ahead, they are optimistic, “We now have a solid Da Vinci genealogy. We also hope the organic relic yields enough usable DNA,” Vezzosi told Seeker and adds, “Whatever the case. This relic has an extraordinary historic importance. We hope we will be soon able to put it on display.”
Top Image: A representation of Leonardo da Vinci. (Deriv.) (CC BY SA) Background: Structure of DNA. (Public Domain Pictures)
By Theodoros Karasavvas