SKETCHES hidden beneath one
of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous works have
been revealed to the public for the first time
after scientists discovered the provocative
images under a thick layer of paint.
A bloody skirmish between knights, a clutch
of figures rebuilding a ruined temple and even
an elephant were carefully laid out by Leonardo
in the preparatory “under-drawing” for his
Adoration of the Magi.
In the version of the painting known to the
world, in which much of the underdrawing is
reproduced, these elements have been hidden.
Parts of the original
design were deliberately obscured — sometimes
with swipes of charcoal — because in 15th
century Florence they were deemed unsuitable for
a picture of the infant Jesus and the wise men.
Maurizio Seracini, an engineer who makes
scientific investigations of artworks,
discovered the discrepancies in 2002 using
multispectrum imaging. His work helped to
establish that the Adoration was only
partly the work of the Renaissance genius.
Signor Seracini demonstrated that the brown
monochrome painting on top of the drawing was
carried out by an anonymous, minor artist about
20 years after Leonardo had finished and
abandoned the preparatory work.
Chiara Pagnini, an art historian based in
Rome, agrees. “Someone like Leonardo would never
do his preparatory drawing and then paint
something different on top.The most plausible
explanation is that the people who commissioned
the work didn’t like it.”
The infrared images showing the concealed
elements had been seen only by a few art
specialists until Signor Seracini unveiled them
publicly for the first time in Florence this
week. A video illustrating his findings is at http://www.florence.tv/.
Signor Seracini’s ability to penetrate the
mysteries of The Adoration of the Magi
attracted the attention of the novelist Dan
Brown when he was writing The Da Vinci
Code. Brown devoted half a page to the work
in his novel, making the scientist the only
living person to feature in the book.
The Adoration of the Magi was a common theme
in Renaissance art. Leonardo was commissioned to
do a version by a community of monks in Scopeto,
near Florence, in 1481. They were probably
aghast when they saw the work being developed by
the 29-year-old artist. “They almost certainly
didn’t want a bloody battle going on a few
inches from the Madonna’s head,” Signor Seracini
In the brown painting that now hangs in the
Uffizi gallery in Florence, the fighting knights
on horseback have gone, as have the prone
figures — presumably corpses — on the ground.
All that can be seen is a pair of prancing
The anonymous painter also covered up several
figures who were rebuilding the ruins in the
background. Signor Seracini suggests that the
monks may have wanted the past to appear
abandoned with the coming of Christ. “The main
difference in the under-drawing is that it is
much busier, there’s lots of movement. About
half the human figures disappear in the painting
phase,” he said.
Signor Seracini and the art historian Antonio
Natali believe that Leonardo planned a battle
scene and temple being rebuilt in the background
to symbolise war and peace, drawing on the
visions of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. The
tiny elephant that Signor Seracini spotted might
have been a symbol of exotic transport used by