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HISTORY

Italian researchers discover 14 descendants of Leonardo Da Vinci living in Tuscany

Historians are searching for relatives of the Italian Renaissance artist as a study of his genealogy aims to ‘better understand his genius’.

Italian researchers discover 14 descendants of Leonardo Da Vinci living in Tuscany
Vinci, the Tuscan village where Leonardo Da Vinci was born. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The researchers behind the project, which has spanned several decades, say they have so far found 14 living relatives aged one and 85.

All of them live in the region of Tuscany, where the painter, scientist, engineer and architect was born in 1452.

READ ALSO: Eight things you might not know about Leonardo Da Vinci

The findings form part of a decades-long project, led by art historians Alessandro Vezzosi and Agnese Sabato.

The study’s findings, published in the Human Evolution journal, document the male line over the past 690 years, through 21 generations.

Though Da Vinci never married and had no children, he had at least 22 half-brothers, according to researchers.

Born in the Tuscan town of Vinci, he was the illegitimate son of a local notary.

READ ALSO: Vinci, the Tuscan paradise where Leonardo’s genius bloomed

Vezzosi told the Ansa news agency that by 2016 “we had already identified 35 of Leonardo’s living relatives, but they were mostly indirect, in the female line, as in the best-known case of the director Franco Zeffirelli.”

“So they were not people who could give us useful information on Leonardo’s DNA and in particular on the Y chromosome, which is transmitted to male descendants and remains almost unchanged for 25 generations”.

He said the 14 living descendants identified in the study, through painstaking research over the decades, were from the male line.

READ ALSO: Da Vinci’s ‘claw hand’ left him unable to hold palette: researchers

“They are aged between one and 85, they don’t live right in Vinci but in neighbouring towns as far away as Versilia (on the Tuscan coast) and they have ordinary jobs such as a clerk, a surveyor, an artisan,” Vezzosi said.

The relatives’ DNA samples will be analysed in the coming months by the international Leonardo Da Vinci DNA Project, led by the Jesse Ausubelof Rockefeller University in New York and supported by the Richard Lounsbery Foundation.

Member comments

  1. My mum, from Argentina, was asked if we were descendants ages ago by someone that was investigating through Da Vinci’s mum that was Buti or something like that. My great-grand father was Butty last name but it was Buti before moving to Argentina. I’ve heard you can go to the museum in Vinci and give a hair to find out the DNA

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HISTORY

‘Lost’ manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

A book by one of France's most celebrated and controversial literary figures arrives in bookstores this week, 78 years after the manuscript disappeared

'Lost' manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

It is a rare thing when the story of a book’s publication is even more mysterious than the plot of the novel itself.

But that might be said of Guerre (War) by one of France’s most celebrated and controversial literary figures, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, which arrives in bookstores on Thursday, some 78 years after its manuscript disappeared.

Celine’s reputation has somehow survived the fact that he was one of France’s most eager collaborators with the Nazis.

Already a superstar thanks to his debut novel Journey to the End of the Night (1932), Celine became one of the most ardent anti-Semitic propagandists even before France’s occupation.

In June 1944, with the Allies advancing on Paris, the writer abandoned a pile of his manuscripts in his Montmartre apartment.

Celine feared rough treatment from authorities in liberated France, having spent the war carousing with the Gestapo, and giving up Jews and foreigners to the Nazi regime and publishing racist pamphlets about Jewish world conspiracies.

For decades, no one knew what happened to his papers, and he accused resistance fighters of burning them. But at some point in the 2000s, they ended up with retired journalist Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, who passed them – completely out of the blue – to Celine’s heirs last summer.

‘A miracle’
Despite the author’s history, reviews of the 150-page novel, published by Gallimard, have been unanimous in their praise.

“The end of a mystery, the discovery of a great text,” writes Le Point; a “miracle,” says Le Monde; “breathtaking,” gushes Journal du Dimanche.

Gallimard has yet to say whether the novel will be translated.

Like much of Celine’s work, Guerre is deeply autobiographical, recounting his experiences during World War I.

It opens with 20-year-old Brigadier Ferdinand finding himself miraculously alive after waking up on a Belgian battlefield, follows his treatment and hasty departure for England – all based on Celine’s real experiences.

His time across the Channel is the subject of another newly discovered novel, Londres (London), to be published this autumn.

If French reviewers seem reluctant to focus on Celine’s rampant World War II anti-Semitism, it is partly because his early writings (Guerre is thought to date from 1934) show little sign of it.

Journey to the End of the Night was a hit among progressives for its anti-war message, as well as a raw, slang-filled style that stuck two fingers up at bourgeois sensibilities.

Celine’s attitude to the Jews only revealed itself in 1937 with the publication of a pamphlet, Trifles for a Massacre, which set him on a new path of racial hatred and conspiracy-mongering.

He never back-tracked. After the war, he launched a campaign of Holocaust-denial and sought to muddy the waters around his own war-time exploits – allowing him to worm his way back into France without repercussions.

‘Divine surprise’
Many in the French literary scene seem keen to separate early and late Celine.

“These manuscripts come at the right time – they are a divine surprise – for Celine to become a writer again: the one who matters, from 1932 to 1936,” literary historian Philippe Roussin told AFP.

Other critics say the early Celine was just hiding his true feelings.

They highlight a quote that may explain the gap between his progressive novels and reactionary feelings: “Knowing what the reader wants, following fashions like a shopgirl, is the job of any writer who is very financially constrained,” Celine wrote to a friend.

Despite his descent into Nazism, he was one of the great chroniclers of the trauma of World War I and the malaise of the inter-war years.

An exhibition about the discovery of the manuscripts opens on Thursday at the Gallimard Gallery and includes the original, hand-written sheets of Guerre.

They end with a line that is typical of Celine: “I caught the war in my head. It is locked in my head.”

In the final years before his death in 1961, Celine endlessly bemoaned the loss of his manuscripts.

The exhibition has a quote from him on the wall: “They burned them, almost three manuscripts, the pest-purging vigilantes!”

This was one occasion – not the only one – where he was proved wrong.

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