|Leonardo da Vinci's "The Battle of Anghiari" 1504|
In his column "The Empty Frame" for the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, lawyer Derek Fincham discusses how the work of Maurizio Seracini is intent upon revealing that five hundred years ago Giorgio Vasari painted over Leonardo Da Vinci's "Battle of Anghiari" at the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence:
A work titled The Battle of Anghiari has been much in the news lately, which is surprising considering it was begun in 1505 and lost to history sometime soon after. The work had a decidedly inauspicious beginning. Pope Leo X remarked that the artist “will never do anything for he begins by thinking about the end before the beginning of his work.” Its creator was given a commission to decorate one wall in the Hall of Five Hundred in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. The work was to be displayed opposite a planned work by Michelangelo (another violent depiction, this one of the Battle of Cascina, also lost to history).
The Battle of Anghiari depicted a rush of men, swords and horses — or at least that appears to be the gist of the work based on Peter Paul Rubens’s copy. The artist of course was Leonardo da Vinci, and the painting would have been one of his final major works. He used a novel technique at the time, applying oil color to the wall along with a thick undercoat of wax and other materials. In a rush to finish the work, he ordered large charcoal braziers be brought close to the work in progress and hung from the ceiling to dry the upper part of the work. This resulted in a mess of smoke and melted wax and prevented the work from being finished. Michelangelo’s cartoon across the hall was eventually cut into pieces.
In recent years Maurizio Seracini has argued that Vasari painted over the Battle of Anghiari. He has used non-invasive measures like drilling small holes in the mural to reveal what may be behind the wall. His research has been controversial, but initial reports indicate that the chemicals and pigments found behind the Vasari mural may share chemical characteristics with other works by Leonardo. The skeptic must wonder what could be so terrific about the hidden Leonardo that would justify the removal of Vasari’s mural.
Derek Fincham is an Assistant Professor of Law at South Texas College of Law and is the new Academic Director of ARCA. His research focuses on the intersection of law with art and antiquities. He holds a Ph.D. in cultural heritage law from the University of Aberdeen, and a J.D. from Wake Forest University and is a trustee of ARCA. He maintains a weblog at http://illicit-cultural-property.blogspot.com/.