CBS 60 Minutes: Maurizio Seracini, CISA3 and the Search for a Lost Leonardo

By Doug Ramsey, 858-822-5825,

San Diego, CA, April 22, 2008 -- The most-watched news program on American television showcased the work of Calit2 researcher Maurizio Seracini in its April 20 edition. In a segment called "The Lost Leonardo", correspondent Morley Safer recounted the UC San Diego researcher's 33-year-old quest to locate the long-lost Leonardo da Vinci mural, "The Battle of Anghiari" -- a search to solve what CBS termed one of the most enduring mysteries of the art world.

Maurizio Seracini and Morley Safer of CBS
Scanning the mural that may be hiding Leonardo's masterpiece: (l-r) Maurizio Seracini, CBS' Morley Safer, and Antonino Cosentino atop the scaffolding at the east wall of the Palazzo Vecchio's Hall of the 500 in Florence. 

"For centuries, it has been assumed the work was destroyed, painted over or simply faded away long ago," reported Safer. "Now, after three decades of battling skepticism and bureaucratic resistance, an art detective named Maurizio Seracini believes he's close to solving the Leonardo mystery by suggesting the mural hasn't been lost at all, but is right where it's always been - for 500 hundred years." In other words, on the east wall of the Hall of the 500, in Florence's Palazzo Vecchio, where Seracini is currently spending about half his time.

Seracini is the director of the Calit2-based Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture and Archaeology (CISA3), a collaboration between Calit2 at UC San Diego, the Jacobs School of Engineering, and UCSD's Division of Arts and Humanities. Seracini was also named a National Geographic Fellow earlier this year and the National Geographic Society is supporting the project.

Morley Safer
60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer introduces the segment on the search for "The Battle of Anghiari". 
Funding for CISA3's participation in the project also comes from Friends of CISA3, formed last September as a vehicle to encourage support from individual donors (some of whom will participate in a behind-the-scenes CISA3 tour of Florence in early May).

60 Minutes crews, led by producer David Browning, have followed Seracini since before the official start of the Anghiari project in October 2007. The report was shot at various time in Florence, San Diego and New York.

According to Safer, "at the University of California, San Diego, Seracini presides over an extremely high-tech center for diagnosing the health of art treasures, helping to figure out how to restore fragile paintings, even buildings. A tiny fleck of paint can yield answers to who did the work, and when. Seracini has mapped out the Palazzo Vecchio in astonishing detail, using images 100 times sharper than any high definition television."

The CBS correspondent was referring to the HIPerSpace tiled display wall, the largest of its kind in the world, with the ability to spread images and video across all 220 million pixels.

"We have managed to see every single brick. Every single stone that is there. As never done before," Seracini is quoted saying.

The segment also showcased technology deployed at Calit2 that allows the viewer to "walk into" a Leonardo masterpiece, in this case, da Vinci's "Adoration of the Magi".  As Safer reported, "His computers in San Diego allow us to walk into the painting, taking us beneath the surface, revealing a world of detail obscured for five centuries -- including a frenzied battle scene, similar to Anghiari." The technology was developed by Calit2 researchers Jurgen Schulze and Philip Weber.

Maurizio Seracini at CISA3
CISA3 director and Calit2 staffer Maurizio Seracini shows some of the bricks from the Palazzo Vecchio that will be used to build a test wall, on which experts will test new imaging technologies on paints and pigments known to have been used by Leonardo da Vinci when he created "The Battle of Anghiari" in the early 1500s.
Seracini did his undergraduate degree in bioengineering at UCSD, graduating in 1973. His original plan was to study medicine or go into medical engineering.  Asked how he got from wanting to cure patients to wanting to cure paintings, Seracini told Safer, "Well, it looks like a big jump, a big leap. But it's very straightforward: I wanted to put together art and science."

The 60 Minutes report followed Seracini into the materials characterization lab with Bernd Fruhberger, manager of the Nano3 cleanroom wing of Atkinson Hall, and to the San Diego Museum of Art, where he was shown at work with Calit2 researcher Javier Rodriguez Molina and others, scanning one of the Renaissance paintings that are part of a CISA3 project to prototype a "digital clinical chart" for works of art.  The report also shows CISA3 engineers stitching together images captured in Florence. "The flood of data represents every substance that might be hiding Leonardo's painting, " noted Safer. "By eliminating them, Seracini should be left with a dim representation of what lies beneath in the Palazzo Vecchio."

Also depicted during the program: the room at Calit2 where Seracini stores what the television report calls "a precious cargo of bricks stored away during renovations of the palazzo." "They'll be painted with the same pigments we know that Leonardo favored, and then used to calibrate newer, more powerful instruments," reported Safer. "And with luck, by year's end, Maurizio Seracini will know the outcome of his 30-year quest."

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