Why? The way art experts rue the recent revelation that a long-lost Leonardo Da Vinci painting never existed - except for a preparatory drawing - is unseemly. Since when are his drawings immaterial?

By the book

ArtNet’s report about a phantom painting called, "The Battle of Anghiari," quoted art historian Francesca Fiora saying the work can “only” be found as a sketch. “Only”? Given her newly published Book The Shadow Drawing: How Science Taught Leonardo to Paint, how can she overlook his works on paper like "The Battle of Anghiari?" With its complex and emotionally-charged composition of frenetic horses and soldiers in war, it’s awfully hard to overlook.


Art News explains why Leonardo’s painting planned for a wall in the Palazzo Vecchio could not have existed. A roundtable of scholars convening at the Uffizi Galleries earlier this month concluded that the choice of material – water-based gesso and oil – wouldn’t have allowed the image to fix on the wall.

Old story

Why is this news? Weren’t those materials the same used in Leonardo’s badly disintegrating mural The Last Supper at the Santa Maria Delle Grazie monastery? (Come to think of it, why didn’t Leonardo know that oil and water don’t mix?)

Au contraire

But wait, the Smithsonian Institute has a contradicting opinion: Leonardo did paint "The Battle of Anghiari" after all. (You can get a headache reading art journals).

The Institute cites Renaissance historian Giorgio Vasari’s contention that he put the painting behind his own at the Palazzo Vecchio to save it from ruin while the palace was undergoing renovation.

Proof positive

The Smithsonian noted other art scholars who likewise dismiss the idea of a non-existent Leonardo painting. Maurizio Serachini, who is said to have studied this topic for the last 45 years, believes that Vasari preserved the painting by putting it behind his own.

In 2011 Serachini got permission to drill four small openings in Vasari’s work to locate it. When he couldn’t find it, he sought permission for more drilling but was turned down.

Thumbs down

Seracini has also suggested another possibility: the Leonardo painting lies directly underneath Vasari’s mural. His proof? A pigment found at the site is the same used in "Mona Lisa." Fiorani rejected such proof, telling Art News that lots of artists used that same pigment.

Much ado about nothing

Undeterred, Seracini told Art News he will continue looking for the painting until evidence to the contrary surfaces. “What’s wrong with looking for an incredible masterpiece?” Nothing, Maurizio. But I have to wonder why you’re so busy looking for a lost painting when you have such a beautifully made drawing of it in hand.

Nagging question

I have the same question when it comes to Leonardo’s preparatory drawings for a life-size equestrian sculpture of the Duke of Milan that never got built. Seeing an artist’s process of thinking for the statue, like seeing the sketch for his painting "The Battle of Anghiari," has enormous value. Since when has the art of drawing become a poor cousin to painting or sculpture? If loss is the subject of this story, it’s the lost art of drawing.