Da Vinci Decoded: The Artist’s Long-Hidden Works Surface At Last

Swiss banks are notorious for keeping secrets, but in early October one of its vaults yielded an unexpected discovery—a long-lost painting by a prolific master of the Italian Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci (1452 -1519).

The richly colored artwork resembles a 1499 pencil sketch of an Italian noblewoman, Isabella d'Este, which is hanging in the Louvre Museum in Paris. This find finally provides the answer to one of the mysteries that have surrounded the multi-talented artist, inventor, mathematician, engineer, and anatomist for over 500 years: whether the sketch of d’Este was followed by a full-fledged oil painting.

In fact, October turned out to be a fruitful month for art historians and Leonardo da Vinci aficionados. On the 27th, restorers working on renovations of the 15th century Sforza Castle in Milan discovered a Leonardo mural, buried for hundreds of years under 17 layers of paint.

The drawing depicts a tree root stuck in a rock, believed to be part of a larger artwork created by Leonardo in the late 1400s, when he served as the court artist for Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan after whom the fortress was named.

Both finds are thrilling developments for art historians, especially since much of Leonardo’s life—and some of his works—are steeped in mystery. It is believed that he used hidden symbols in his art, as is the case with his best-known painting, the Mona Lisa. To this day, the true identity of the woman with the shy smile it is not known with certainty. And several years ago, Italy’s National Committee for Cultural Heritage revealed that by magnifying high-resolution images of Mona Lisa's eyes, letters, numbers, and other symbols could be seen.

And another of Leonardo’s famous works, The Last Supper, has had historians scratching their heads over what they believe are secret messages contained in the painting—for example, why he chose to depict foods that are not consistent with the Biblical description, or why the salt shaker is tipped over in front of Judas.

Given the multitude of still-unanswered questions raised by his artworks, experts agree that, in all likelihood, Leonardo intentionally tried to confuse observers with unexplained symbols. While all of the mysteries shrouding the quintessential Renaissance man may never be solved, with the recent discovery of the two paintings, at least some of Da Vinci codes are now cracked.

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