Leonardo DeVinci – great Renaissance artist, inventor and anatomist – has 14 living male relatives, new analysis of his family tree reveals. The new family tree could one day help researchers determine whether the bones buried in a French chapel belong to Italian genius.
Historians Alessandro Vezzosi and Agnese Sabato have spent more than a decade tracing the genealogy of the famous painter “Mona Lisa”. Their map spans 690 years, 21 generations and five family branches, and will be vital in helping anthropologists sequence the DNA da Vinci by sequencing the DNA of his descendants, the researchers said.
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Beyond establishing the identity of his possible remains, the artist’s DNA sequencing could also allow scientists to better understand “his extraordinary talents, in particular his visual acuity, through genetic associations”, assert representatives of the Leonardo Da Vinci DNA Project, an initiative that aims to use genetic information to create 3D images of da Vinci through a process called DNA phenotyping.
Da Vinci was a painter, architect, inventor, anatomist, engineer and scientist. Mainly self-taught, he filled dozens of secret notebooks with fanciful inventions and anatomical observations. To accompany famous sketches such as “L’Homme de Virtruve”, da Vinci wrote coded messages in his own shorthand, reflected backwards to hide his studies from prying eyes. In addition to detailed drawings of human anatomy, drawn from observations of dissected corpses, his notebooks contain drawings of bicycles, helicopters, tanks and airplanes.
In a new study, Vezzosi and Sabato used archival historical documents as well as direct accounts of surviving descendants to trace the five branches of the da Vinci family tree. According to historians, Leonardo was part of the sixth generation of da Vinci.
Finding da Vinci’s family history is difficult because only one of his parents can be successfully traced. Born out of wedlock in the Tuscan town of Anchiano, Leonardo da Vinci was the son of Florentine lawyer Ser Piero da Vinci and a peasant woman named Caterina. Research by Martin Kemp, an art historian at the University of Oxford, suggests Caterina was a 15-year-old orphan at the time of da Vinci’s birth, Live Science previously reported. At the age of 5, the young da Vinci was taken to his family estate in the city of Vinci (where his family took his last name) to live with his grandparents.
When da Vinci died on May 2, 1519, at the age of 67, he had no known children and his remains were lost, meaning there was no reliable DNA to analyze. As a result, parts of his ancestors have become mysterious.
Leonardo’s original burial was recorded in the Saint-Florentin chapel of the Château d’Amboise, a manor house in the Loire Valley in France. The chapel was abandoned after the French Revolution and later demolished. Contemporary accounts allege that a complete skeleton was unearthed from the site and moved to the nearby Saint-Hubert Chapel, but whether or not these are Leonardo’s bones remains a mystery.
The new family tree, which begins in 1331 with the patriarch of the Michele family, revealed 14 living relatives with a wide variety of professions, including office workers, a pastry chef, a blacksmith, an upholsterer, a porcelain seller and a artist.
Researchers will determine whether the human remains in the Loire Valley Chapel belong to da Vinci by comparing the Y chromosome in these bones to the Y chromosome belonging to da Vinci’s male relatives. The Y chromosome is passed from father to son and remains virtually unchanged for 25 generations, the researchers say.
Additionally, finding fragments of da Vinci’s genetic code could help art historians verify the authenticity of works of art, notes, and journal entries allegedly created by Italian Renaissance man by comparing his DNA discovered with traces of DNA found on the coins.
The researchers published their results on July 4 in the journal Human Evolution.
Originally posted on Live Science.