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Last night I watched a really interesting documentary on National Geographic about a search for a lost fresco of Leonardo da Vinci in Florence.  In the 16th century Leonardo painted a fresco, "The Battle of Anghiari", on one of the walls of the Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the Five Hundred) in the Palazzo Vecchio.  He abandoned it before it was finished and it remained incomplete for many decades until the hall was enlarged by Vasari.  The theory is Vasari, who greatly admired Leonardo's fresco, built a wall in front of the painting rather than destroy it and then painted his own version of the battle.

(The fresco is on the left side of the picture, the panel next to the balcony in the back of the room)

(Here it is again, on the right side of the photo.  I had no idea when I took the picture that it was the center of such mystery!)

(And because I have the maturity level of a fifteen year old, I included a photo of this statue, which is right below the fresco.  I snicker every time I see it.  I'm not proud of this, but it is funny)

Over time it was forgotten on which wall Leonardo had painted his fresco, but researchers discovered a gap behind one of the walls which led them to believe they had discovered the location of the missing painting.  They drilled holes in the fresco and inserted a tiny camera to take a peek inside the gap, to mixed results.  While the researchers did not specifically find what they were seeking before they ran out of time, nothing was ruled out either.  The biggest problem was the drama caused by the press, who made it look like the researchers just stumbled in out of the rain and began randomly banging on the walls with a hammer.  In actuality, they had the full cooperation and permission of the government, but due to the pressure from the press the officials threw the research team under the bus and cancelled the entire project before a proper inspection of the fresco could be made.  However, there were enough intriguing clues to indicate they should take another look at this and I suspect one day they will.

Any story about Florence is naturally going to capture my interest, but I particularly loved this one.  I've been in that room in the Palazzo Vecchio and it's an incredible space.  There's a Michelangelo sculpture, among many others, as well as dozens of rooms that are simply breathtaking.  I can't vouch for my impartiality though.

One of the things I loved best about the documentary was the passionate debate about exactly what needed to be done, and how and where.  After all, even though they were searching for a lost da Vinci, they still had to make tiny holes in another masterpiece.  So many reputations were on the line and no one wanted to be the one who gave the green light to a procedure that ended up knocking and entire fresco onto the floor in a cloud of dust and horror.  On the other hand, they all wanted to be the ones who discovered a work of art that had been missing for nearly 500 years.  I understand there was a certain amount of posturing and politics and ego behind some of the debate, but that doesn't take away from the wonderful notion of people fighting over a painting.  Lives didn't hang in the balance, but they argued as if they did and I find this pretty cool.

I guess I just love that there are people out there who have dedicated their lives to the study of these wonderful creations that, to be honest, don't serve any real purpose other than to speak to the soul.  These people are committed to preserving and protecting the art for as long as possible, acting as stewards for an artist who has been gone for centuries.

Something that made an impression on me the first time I visited Italy was how important to mankind these works of art truly are.   I didn't feel like I was seeing a part of Italian history and culture, I felt like I was seeing something that belonged to every human being everywhere.  I was seeing something of beauty created by a regular person just like me who had good days and bad days, who drank wine and complained about taxes, who bonked his head or got sunburned, who laughed with his friends or liked the smell of grass.  It's hard to picture the human behind the art, but it's there and when I see it and feel it, I feel a connection that is stronger than nationality and time.

Perhaps I'm overly sentimental, but this is the kind of stuff rolling around in my head.  Watching this National Geographic documentary gave me goosebumps and reminded me of all the things I love about my Italy.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 21st, 2012 02:19 am (UTC)
And that is what is so fabulous about Europe in general. Here there is no end of people whining about the cost of art and whether the art in question is suitable for small children or if the art is sufficiently respectful of their religion. Remember the kerfuffle about the Hindu Goddess in front of Old City Hall?

None of that in Europe. They preserve it because it is worthwhile.
Mar. 21st, 2012 02:44 am (UTC)
Exactly. It exists because it has a right to. The hindu goddess in front of Old City Hall is beautiful and I'm glad they kept it, but what a fuss was made over that.

They've got a lot of things properly sorted in Europe.
Mar. 21st, 2012 02:58 am (UTC)
Mar. 21st, 2012 02:57 am (UTC)
So beautiful. Thank you so much for posting!
Mar. 21st, 2012 02:59 am (UTC)
Thank you for reading!
Mar. 21st, 2012 03:04 am (UTC)
Soul enriching stuff
Mar. 21st, 2012 03:07 am (UTC)
Enriching indeed.
Mar. 21st, 2012 05:02 am (UTC)
I saw that documentary and came away completely fascinated. I really hope they do get a chance to peak behind the wall. The clues are all there. Hopefully, they can figure out a way to do this without ruining the fresco potentially covering the Leonardo.

I loved the statue you posted. Haha!
Mar. 21st, 2012 11:31 am (UTC)
It wasn't really clear the exact reason why they stopped everything, but you're right, all the clues are there. This isn't something that can really be ignored and I'm sure the documentary can help bring some attention to the issue.

When I first saw that statue, I stood there staring at it saying to myself, "Is he holding...wow, he IS holding it!"
Mar. 21st, 2012 08:41 am (UTC)
Ok firstly I had to do some masterpiece-digging of my own because in my LJ view your writing is invisible. Seriously. Did you do that on purpose, you clever clogs, you?

Anyway, once I highlighted the entire post (and stopped giggling at the wenus-grabber) I saw what you were talking (er, writing) about. We always try to catch these documentaries too, Sem has a degree in art history so it's right up his alley. And I just like the pretties!

I'm always so glad that there are still cities and places in the world where they don't just knock shit down and put up a Walmart. Rather they preserve their precious architecture/works of art/ruins of one kind or another, and the world benefits. On a much smaller scale, it's one of the things I love about living here. You wouldn't believe how many ruins of old houses from the Clearances era and even farther back survive out in the country. People build houses on the same bits of land, but usually next to the old tumble-down cottages... not on top of them. It's lovely.
Mar. 21st, 2012 11:37 am (UTC)
I could not for the life of me get the post to stop doing the white on white thing! I wrote the posting elsewhere and cut and pasted it into LJ and this is what happened. Stupid thing! If you see the page on my blog and not on your friends feed, it should look okay. What a pain.

In Florence they have a law that buildings in the historical district cannot change their paint color. Whatever color it has been is the color it will always be. I love the continuity of that, the preservation of that world into modern times. One thing that breaks my heart living in California is our inclination to tear everything down and build something new. It's a horrible practice and we've lost so many things we can't ever get back. There's no vision or sense of history and it's such a waste.

Edited at 2012-03-21 11:38 am (UTC)
Mar. 21st, 2012 02:58 pm (UTC)
Wonderful post, Matt. Such gorgeous works and such great thoughts! And a chuckle too, at the wenus-grabber. That's definitely below-the-belt wrestling. :-)
Mar. 22nd, 2012 02:02 am (UTC)
Thanks! And how could I not include the photo of the junk grabbing after all that serious talk?
Mar. 22nd, 2012 12:52 pm (UTC)
So true. :-)
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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