DNA Testing on Da Vinci Remains

One of the greatest names in Renaissance history is without doubt Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) born in the Italian region of Tuscany in a little town known as Vinci. His remains are to undergo DNA testing. Interestingly, he was a mathematician, an architect, a painter, a sculptor and an engineer.

Yet, it is well known that he made no contributions to the field of mathematics and his opus of artistic works is very small when compared to other contemporary artists.

The artist’s body of artistic works

Da Vinci did not produce the that many paintings, much unlike other of his contemporaries who were much more prolific. His most extensive body of works actually involve studies of the human body – anatomy. Despite many claiming the Da Vinci was an artists many claim that he was actually a scientists, observing and studying things which had never been studied before and meticulously documenting his discoveries. His depictions of internal organs such as the cardiovascular system and muscles are astoundingly accurate – especially incredible because they were drawn by hand.

His greatest Known work in terms of painting is his Mona Lisa, famous for the new painting technique the artist himself developed known as the ‘sfumato’ which is what gives the idiosyncratic, captivating Mona Lisa smile. The smile that haunts and fascinates viewers, that follows them from the corner of her eye.

Italian experts have a few questions they need answered regarding the artist and his life and they will resort to DNA testing methods to solve the issues, hoping to reconstruct Da Vinci’s genetic fingerprint.

  •     Are the da Vinci remains in the French chateau of Amboise, really da Vinci’s remains?
  •     How did he die?
  •    Who is the sitter of his most famous work, the Mona Lisa also known as La Giaconda? Could it be a self portrait of the artist?

The group of Italian scientists will need to carry out extensive DNA testing on bone samples and any tissues samples that may still be preserved. Moreover, carbon dating will also be needed to establish the age of the remains.

The problems they will encounter are, amongst others, the French authorities. Exhumations in France are tedious, requiring a lot of time and many legal procedures. Moreover, the permit to exhume the alleged remains of da Vinci will be all the more complicated simply because of the importance of this historical figure.

The Italian scientists will firstly need to analyze the skull. If this is intact, using sophisticated computer technology and CT scans, they can reconstruct the artist’s face and see whether the Mona Lisa is a self portrait of the artist by superimposing the computer reconstruction and the Mona Lisa. The testing can only be conducted if the bones are preserved; if they are, than scientists have an invaluable archive of biological evidence. The original burial site of the artist, Saint Florentine Church, Amboise, was taken down during the revolution of 1789 and Da Vinci’s bones moved to a different location; St Hubert’s chapel near the Castle of Amboise. The remains are thus, questionably da Vinci’s as there are no records available from the time. In fact, tourists are informed of this on visiting da Vinci’s tombstone, which has no epitaph, just his name.

Confirming the remains of da Vinci will be quite difficult as there are no known living descendents or tombs of relatives from which to take DNA samples and draw up da Vinci’s DNA profiles that can be compared to da Vinci’s.

Other DNA comparison may be feasible but there is a heavy dependency on the issue of the bones – are there really any bones in the grave (it has never been opened)? Have they been preserved or is there only dust? Will the DNA fragments taken for analysis be enough to reach any insightful conclusions? Experts claim that there are other traces of DNA that the artist left elsewhere. It is believed that da Vinci smudged his oil paints after having licked his thumb to create special painting effects. This means that there should be cheek cells transferred from his mouth to his thumb to the paintings. His painting may thus provide enough DNA for testing. Mr. Gruppioni, the expert on the case, said that this was going to a challenging DNA extraction procedure and there is a big change that it will not prove feasible.

Of what did da Vinci die?

Pathology could provide invaluable information if da Vinci died of Syphilis or tuberculosis; these where two major causes of death during the renaissance and might well have caused da Vinci’s death. If the artist died from any of these diseases, analysts will find evidence in the bones.

The Italian researches have still a long way to go and many hurdles to overcome, but DNA testing can provide them with a lot of information, answer questions about the bones’ identity. The Mona Lisa may really be, as many believe, the wife of a silk merchant named Francesco Del Giacondo. In fact, to many Italians the painting is known as La Giaconda.

DNA testing is become a very accurate and reliable. The key to the answers the Italian team of da Vinci experts want can only be found through DNA testing. We can just hope that they find some answers that can be recorded in history books to give us a more thorough understanding of this great figure.