Scientist pursuing hunt for ‘The Lost Leonardo’

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Could a 21st-century scientist at Chicago‚Äôs famed Argonne National Laboratory help find a missing masterpiece painted by Leonardo da Vinci more than 500 years ago? Robert Smither thinks he can. 

Peter Paul Rubens’s copy of The Battle of Anghiari, is a lost painting by Leonardo da Vinci at times referred to as “The Lost Leonardo”, which some commentators believe to be still hidden beneath later frescoes in the Hall of Five Hundred (Salone dei Cinquecento) in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence [Credit: Wikipedia]

The painting, da Vinci‚Äôs “Battle of Anghiari,” was started in 1505. It would have been Leonardo‚Äôs largest work, if it had ever been completed.  

But da Vinci abandoned the giant work in Florence‚Äôs Palazzo Vecchio when duty called at the Vatican, and it was never finished. The painting remained on the wall for another 60 years, until Italian master Giorgio Vasari was commissioned to redecorate the space. 

It is believed he erected a giant wall in front of Leonardo‚Äôs incomplete painting, applying his own enormous frescoes which exist to this day. 

But is Leonardo‚Äôs missing treasure still there? 

“They never quite mentioned where it was,” Smither laughed. “So part of the mystery is finding it.”  

Working with the National Geographic Society, Smither said he believes he can beam neutrons through Vasari‚Äôs frescoes to the second wall behind. If there is paint on that wall, the particle beams would excite the atoms in that paint, sending gamma rays back through the wall. 

Every color of paint, says Smither, contains its own distinctive metals, and their isotopes would be easily identified. 

“If you see a 158.573-kilovolt gamma ray, you‚Äôve got red paint,” he says. And if that comes back, it means there is another painting on the hidden wall. 

Leonardo‚Äôs missing masterpiece. 

“For the art world, this would be the sensation of the century,” said Smither. 

As with all science, funding is key. The endeavor will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is still being raised. But Smither, a 55-year veteran of Argonne, said he hopes the work can begin sometime next year.  

Author: Phil Rogers | Source: msnbc [October 02, 2011]

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