A lock of hair in Italy to help delve into the life of Leonardo da Vinci

"La Gioconda desnuda," (The nude Gioconda), attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci, at teh Museo Ideale di Vinci, May 2, 2019. EPA-EFE/ Gianni Nucci

VINCI, ITALY.- The memory of Leonardo permeates everything in his native Vinci, a small Tuscan town that now aspires to delve further into his mythical figure by analyzing a strand of hair attributed to the Italian genius which was displayed to the public Thursday, the fifth centenary of his death.

The relic is to be exhibited for the first time at the inauguration of the Ideale Museum of this town, which is dedicated to commemorating the legacy of one of the world’s most illustrious artists and scholars, who died exactly 500 years ago, on May 2, 1519, at the court of King Francis I of France.

The museum houses a small collection of documents that aim to shed light on the life of the humanist, still shrouded in a certain aura of mystery, and the most important piece is a small frame that keeps a lock of hair labeled «Le Cheveux de Leonardo da Vinci,» (the hair of Leonardo, in French).

They are only a few white hairs attributed to Leonardo and bought from an American collector whose identity has not been revealed.

However, the truth of the thread-like remains must be considered among the «many questions» that surround the man that need to be scientifically analyzed, said the museum’s director, Alessandro Vezzosi.

Leonardo died in the palatial complex of Château du Clos Lucé, Amboise, and his corpse was buried on Aug. 12 in the church of St. Florentin, within the same castle, which in the following centuries has suffered from neglect and even partial demolition.

The writer Arsène Houssaye undertook in 1863 the search of Leonardo’s tomb among the ruins of a part of the castle and managed to find the coffin and its bones, thanks to a tombstone that had the inscription: «Leonardus Vinci.»

Houssaye supposedly recovered the body, then reinterred it in a tomb that was rebuilt in 1874 in the royal castle thanks to the initiative of the Earl of Paris, Louis Philippe of Orleans.

But Houssaye retained some hairs from the corpse and a bronze ring that was taken from a finger, objects which are now exhibited in Vinci.

Vezzosi told Efe that the collector had documents that purportedly verify that the hairs were the property of the French writer and that they had been passed down from one owner to another after his death in 1896.

In short, it is known that the hairs are from Houssaye’s collection, but it remained to be seen if they actually belonged to the painter of the beguiling Mona Lisa.

«The hair has the same probability of being his as does the tomb,» the historian said.

In his opinion, «the importance of this relic is not so much that it is simply a historical document, it is not a simple question of a fetish, but an instrument to aid knowledge,» he said.

The object was to extract any possible genetic material so as to compare it with the DNA of some of Da Vinci’s living descendants, tracked down by Vezzosi in 2016.

The master painter had died in France without offspring.

The director said the remains should be studied with the same rigor that Leonardo himself had upheld in his scientific studies. “Too many fakes arise,» he said, adding that the results would take months to be determined.

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