Searching out a lost Leonardo

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The New York Times have reported on the hunt for a lost Leonardo da Vinci fresco in Florence's Palazzo Vecchio. Dr Maurizio Seracini, a professor of engineering at the University of California, San Diego, is leading the technical investigation of the Hall of Five Hundred.

The painting, entitled ‘The Battle of Anghiari’, is thought to be Leonardo's largest work, but was never finished. The completed central scene is known from Leonardo's preparatory drawings and from copies by contemporary artists-but by the 1560s, it had been painted over by Vasari.

In 1975, when Dr Seracini studied one of Vasari's battle scenes, he noticed a tiny flag with two words, ‘Cerca Trova’- he who seeks, finds. Seracini took it to be a reference to Leonardo's work hidden beneath.

Returning in 2000 to map the room using infrared and laser technology, Seracini and his tem found that the area painted by Leonardo was indeed beneath the ‘Cerca Trova’ spot. Analysis also showed that Vasari had not plastered directly over Leonardo's work but had instead protected the older fresco with a new layer of bricks-and a gap of 1-3 centimetres. Seracini and his team including physicists in the United States, Italy's nuclear-energy agency and universities in the Netherlands and Russia are now using further non-invasive technologies to try and image the Leonardo fresco.

If the painting is still there, what should be done with it? If you would like to debate the question, go to John Tierney's New York Times blog.