A person looks at an electronic display of The Vitruvian Man 1490, a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Photo: A person looks at an electronic display of The Vitruvian Man 1490, a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Researchers hope to understand genius of artist by reconstructing his genealogical profile

06 June 2021 | Angela Giuffrida | The Guardian

A study into the family history of the Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo Da Vinci claims to have found 14 living relatives, the youngest aged one.

The findings form part of a decades-long project, led by art historians Alessandro Vezzosi and Agnese Sabato, aimed at reconstructing the genealogical profile of Da Vinci – who never married and had no children, but had at least 22 half-brothers – in order to better understand his genius.

The latest study, published in the Human Evolution journal, documents a continuous male line spanning 690 years, starting from Leonardo’s grandfather, Michele, who was born in 1331, through 21 generations and including five family branches, to the 14 living descendants today.

The painter, scientist, engineer and architect was born the illegitimate son of a notary in the Tuscan town of Vinci in 1452 and died in Amboise, France, in 1519.

The researchers had been following the Y-chromosome, which fathers pass on to sons, and it remained almost unchanged for 25 generations, Vezzosi told the news agency, Ansa.

In 2016, they also identified 35 living relatives of Leonardo, including many from the female line, but they were mostly indirect descendants. The most famous indirect descendant was claimed to be the late film director Franco Zeffirelli.

“They were not people who could give us useful information on Leonardo’s DNA and in particular on the Y-chromosome,” added Vezzosi.

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

Their DNA will now be analysed in the coming months, by comparing their Y-chromosome with that of their ancestors in ancient and modern burial sites.

Over the course of the project, researchers have gathered data from historical documents in public and private archives and from direct accounts provided by surviving descendants.

Leonardo’s original burial place was in the chapel of Saint-Florentin at the Chateau d’Amboise in the Loire valley in France, but this was destroyed during the French Revolution. Bones were removed from there and interred in the chateau’s smaller chapel, Saint-Hubert, but there is only presumption that they are Leonardo’s remains.

The headline on this article was amended on 7 July 2021 to remove a reference to the living descendants being male.

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