He has long been praised as one of the finest artists of the Renaissance, working far ahead of his time and producing some of the world’s most recognisable works.
But Leonardo da Vinci has finally received the credit he deserves for his “startling” medical accuracy hundreds of years in advance of his peers, as scientists match his anatomical drawings with modern day MRI scans.
The project, which will be unveiled at the Edinburgh International Festival in August, compares the work directly for the very first time, unveiling the minute details recorded by the artist.
In a series of 30 pictures, the Royal Collection Trust will show da Vinci’s distinctive anatomical drawings alongside a newly-taken MRI or CT scan.
The comparison is intended to show just how accurate da Vinci was, despite his limited technology and lack of contemporary medical knowledge.
The 18-month-long restoration of the painting that Leonardo laboured on for 20 years until his death in 1519 will go a long way to raising “Saint Anne” to its place as one of the most influential Florentine paintings of its time and a step towards the high Renaissance of Michelangelo.
The cleaning has endowed the painting portraying the Virgin Mary with her mother Saint Anne and the infant Jesus with new life and luminosity. Dull, faded hues were transformed into vivid browns and lapis lazuli that had visitors awestruck.
“It’s unbelievable, so beautiful. Now you have that same feeling as when you enter Michelangelo’s restored Sistine Chapel. Look at the blue!” one visitor, Odile Celier, 66, said on Wednesday.
The exhibit brings together some 130 preparatory drawings and studies by Leonardo and his apprentices – something curator Vincent Delieuvin likened to “a police investigation” – tracing the painting’s conception and revealing to experts today the entire development over the last 20 years of Leonardo’s life.
Researchers claim the discovery is the first definitive proof that the Leonardo work lies hidden beneath a huge battle scene subsequently painted in the same spot by the artist Giorgio Vasari.
More work needs to be done, but the findings seem to have solved a 500-year-old mystery and could represent one of the biggest discoveries in the history of art for decades.
Leonardo was commissioned in 1503 to paint an enormous tableau, The Battle of Anghiari, in the Hall of the Five Hundred in Palazzo Vecchio, the historic seat of government in Florence.
Contemporaries hailed the work, which depicted a battle between Milan and the Italian League, led by the Republic of Florence, as “the school of the world”.
But it disappeared when Vasari, himself an admirer of Leonardo’s work, was commissioned to enlarge and completely remodel the imposing hall, painting six new murals on its walls. It had long been assumed that the Leonardo work was obliterated.