Decoding Da Vinci: At Calit2, UCSD Alumnus Shows Stunning Discoveries

By Doug Ramsey

Adoration of the Magi
Adoration of the Magi

San Diego, CA, February 3, 2006-- Some 250 people packed Calit2's theater at UCSD and a neighboring auditorium for a talk that addressed two of the institute's core areas: technology and art. Near the end of the two-hour lecture, the rapt audience burst into applause when the speaker unveiled -- for the first time anywhere -- images drawn by Leonardo Da Vinci and not seen in 500 years. The scenes were hidden as original drawings by Da Vinci underneath the paint in his masterpiece, "The Adoration of the Magi." The original artwork could only be seen thanks to imaging techniques Maurizio Seracini used to look below the surface of the painting, through successive levels of pigment and decay.

"We have just completed processing this portion of the painting and it is clear that Leonardo's true genius is even more impressive when you strip away the work of painters and restorers in the intervening centuries," said Seracini, pointing to a series of beautifully executed faces and horses that had never been seen before. "Science can bring so much to our understanding and appreciation for art, and this is why I am especially happy to bring this before an audience of scientists and engineers who have an important role to play in creating a new discipline where art and engineering go hand in hand."

Maurizio Seracini
Maurizio Seracini at Calit2. For streaming video of his lecture, click below or images:
Part One: Introduction and 'Hall of the Five-Hundred' [watch video] Length: 1:10:13
Part Two: 'Adoration of the Magi' and Conclusions [watch video ] Length: 1:01:40

For Seracini, his talk was also a homecoming of sorts. He graduated from UC San Diego with a bioengineering degree in 1973, and was invited to speak on the campus as part of a UCSD Alumni Association series of lectures by distinguished alumni. Seracini, who is a professor at the University of Calabria, is also featured in a ten-page cover story in the January 2006 issue of @UCSD , the university's alumni magazine.

At least part of the excitement surrounding the UCSD engineering alum's talk derived from awareness that Seracini was mentioned in the bestselling novel, "The Da Vinci Code." Author Dan Brown referred to him as the Italian art diagnostician "who unveiled the unsettling truth" about Da Vinci's work.

Seracini was welcomed to the campus by Alumni Association director John Valva and @UCSD editor Raymond Hardie. In his welcome remarks, Calit2 director Larry Smarr told the audience that Seracini's groundbreaking work underscores why the institute's building at UCSD was designed to foster multidisciplinary research between art and technology. Calit2 sponsored a live webcast of Seracini's talk, which is now available for on-demand viewing (see box above) [Real player and a high-speed connection required].

Valva Smarr Hardie
Welcoming Seracini to UCSD (l-r): Alumni Association director John Valva; Calit2 director Larry Smarr; and @UCSD editor Raymond Hardie.
[watch video ] Length: 8:44

In part one of his talk, Seracini introduced some of the imaging technologies he uses to scour for original architectural details of buildings, highlighting his reconstruction of the Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the Five-Hundred) in Florence's Palazzo Vecchio. Using animation techniques borrowed from Hollywood, his research team has been able to trace what the hall looked like when it was built, and uncovered entire walls built over previous murals that were unknown until now. In his talk, Seracini stressed specifically the find of a mural about the Battle of Anghiari, which was almost identical to a painting Da Vinci did decades later.

Seracini has unleashed his investigative methods on paintings and other artworks, but none more prized than the Adoration of the Magi , considered the most valuable Da Vinci piece still in Italy. He spent the second hour of his talk taking the audience methodically through the science of rediscovering a wealth of detail in the painting that until now was hidden from sight -- often covered over by paint many years later.

The UCSD event was sponsored by GEICO Insurance and the UCSD Alumni Association, with support from Calit2. In late March, Seracini's work will be part of a major exhibit in Florence, mounted by the Uffizi Gallery and the Museum of Science, titled "The Mind of Da Vinci."

Related Links
@UCSD Article on Maurizio Seracini
UCSD Alumni Association