Who is this?
He was endlessly curious searching for answers in everything he did. We think of him as the ultimate renaissance man. He created a new idea of beauty. He reinvented the art of painting.
Leonardo de Vinci. And that was from our BBC documentary about the ultimate renaissance man. Well now scientists are hoping to extract DNA from de Vinci’s paintings and sketch books.
DNA is unbelievably powerful. Just think of what it’s doing in courtrooms and its transforming of our understanding of our world, of ourselves. And it will have a massive effect we believe in coming decades on our understanding of history including the history of art. Why not begin with Leonardo who was perhaps the personification of art and science together.
Yes we were wondering whether you wanted to clone him? I mean, why is it important to know what his DNA was?
Let me give you one particular reason of interest to me and that’s visual acuity. Leonardo had incredible eyesight. One might say he could see birds and flight if you look at his drawings of birds, if you look at his drawings of water and hydrodynamics. Well, ten or twenty years from now we could have some of Leonardo’s genes for vision. So I give that as one reason, but there are others as well. His ancestry, his mother was a servant girl, perhaps even a slave, Katerina from the north of the black sea. We’d like to know more about his origins, the genealogy of his mother and father.
This hybrid that created him obviously was very very special.
There’s also a bit of a historical question about where he was buried cuz there is a proposed site, but it’s not a certain thing, right?
Correct, the last few years of his life, Leonardo worked quite happily for the King of France in Amboise in the Loire Valley, a very beautiful place. He died on either May 2nd or May 5th, 1519. He was buried only three months later in August. And then the tomb where he was presumably buried was opened in the year 1802 and again in 1863. So because of the three-month hiatus between his death and the initial burial, and then the openings in 1802 and 1863, there are questions about whether the bones in Ambois are those of Leonardo himself.