Truth Mimics Fiction Where DaVinci and Company Are Concerned

            The best-seller and movie The DaVinci Code revolved around a mystery hidden in Leonardo’s masterpieces.  Code is a fun story, if not great fiction or film-making.  For my money, though, real-life art mysteries hold much more interest.            Let’s begin with Leonardo himself.  Last week Italian engineer and art expert Maurizio Seracini announced his conclusion that a missing mural masterpiece — DaVinci’s epic “The Battle of Anghiari” — was behind a wall.  The fresco was started by the Renaissance genius in 1505.  The room was remodeled in 1563 and the picture was never seen again.  For five centuries art historians logged it among the lost.  Says Seracini, “There would have been no reason to destroy the ‘Battle of Anghiari’ in order to remodel the room.  That kind of thing wasn’t done, and especially it would not have been done with this fresco.”         Seracini, age 73, is mentioned in Code.  His earlier coup was uncovering some of DaVinci’s lost drawings.  Holder of an American biomedical-engineering degree, he started searching for the so-called “Lost Leonardo” in 1975.  Preliminary sketches confirm the mural’s creation and provide glimpses of its appearance.  His preliminary investigation suggested the fresco was still right where Leonardo had painted it, on a wall of
Florence’s town hall.  In 1977, lacking appropriate technology to confirm his suspicions, Seracini abandoned the quest.
        In 1999 Anglo-Irish millionaire Loel Guinness stoutly funded a renewed effort.  This time around, Seracini brought state-of-the-art medical and military technology to bear on the mystery.  Thermography, radar and x-ray combined to reveal a second wall just behind the one currently carrying a mural by a Leonardo admirer named Vasari.  “He did not have any reasons to destroy, damage or remove Leonardo’s painting,” argues Seracini, who wants to move the outer wall to get a gander at the second.  Furthermore, Vasari, ala the Code’s plot, painted on a flag in his picture “Cerca Trova,” roughly translated “Seek and You Shall Find.”  So far, the city fathers and mothers are refusing to let Seracini proceed, deeming his evidence still inconclusive.      Seracini isn’t the only Indiana Jones of the art world.  Jonathan Harr of A Civil Action brought out a new book last year, The Lost Painting.  It tells of the discovery of a lost masterpiece by 16th-17th century painter Carivaggio.  This guy was the John Belushi of Italian painting.  A hard drinker, he instigated duels and did other anti-social stuff, which resulted in hasty exits just in front of the law and the vengeful relatives of his victims.  His paintings caused almost as much trouble as he did.  He posed prostitutes and other street people as Jesus, Mary and the saints.  Church officials had a nasty habit of taking down his pictures when they found out who was in them.  That’s one reason why his masterpieces had a tendency to disappear.  Carivaggio, like Belushi, died young, making his surviving works all the more valuable.       “The Taking of Christ” is the focus of Harr’s story, which starts with two art students in Rome in the 1980s and climaxes in a Jesuit rectory in
Dublin in the 1990s.  An intriguing epilogue recounts the emerging of yet another version of “The Taking” in a seedy
Rome art shop in 2004.  Just as Florentine officialdom is stymieing Seracini’s quest for Leonardo’s “
Battle,” Roman police have confiscated the newly-discovered version of “The Taking” until multiple lawsuits can be resolved.  The former owner, who ignorantly sold it for a fraction of its potential value, the art dealer who bought it, the art historian who has staked her reputation on its authenticity… all want a piece of the potential action.
       The
U.S. isn’t left out of this art-quest free-for-all.  Last spring 32 previously unknown Jackson Pollock paintings surfaced in
New York.  The Pollock-Krasner Foundation disputes their authenticity, according to NPR.  Since Pollock’s approach to art was to splatter and dribble paint all over a canvas, authentication ain’t easy.  In his own words, 
My painting does not come from the easel. I prefer to tack the unstretched canvas to the hard wall or the floor. I need the resistance of a hard surface. On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting.”      It’s no wonder the owners of the 32 “lost Pollocks” are fighting hard to establish their provenance.  A Pollock entitled simply “No. 5 1948” sold last year for $140 million… yes, that’s million.  “No. 5” might be mistaken by you or me as an old drop-cloth.  No matter… a fortune is in play here, too.      You don’t need to be an art expert, or even like art, to enjoy these real-life dramas. 

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