History

35 Living Relatives Of Leonardo Da Vinci Identified

Leonardo Da Vinci has has 35 living relatives in Tuscany, two Italian researchers announced on Thursday.

Leonardo Da Vinci has 35 living relatives in Tuscany, two Italian researchers announced on Thursday.

Historian Agnese Sabato and art historian Alessandro Vezzosi, director of the Museo Ideale in the Tuscan town of Vinci, said they tracked down, one by one, the direct living descendants from Leonardo's father, a Florentine legal notary named Ser Piero Da Vinci.

"Leonardo's descendants are all living around Florence and nearby villages such as Empoli and Vinci," Vezzosi told Discovery News.

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It was believed that no traces were left of the painter, engineer, mathematician, philosopher and naturalist. The remains of Leonardo, who died in 1519 in Amboise, France, were believed to have been dispersed in the 16th century during religious wars.

With no Da Vinci's remains to work on, Sabato and Vezzosi' starting point were documents left by Da Vinci's grandfather, Antonio.

Antonio recorded Leonardo's birth, indicating his son Ser Piero as Leonardo's father. There was no mention of the mother's name.

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She is however recorded in one of Antonio's notes dated 1457, and referred to as Caterina, the wife of Achattabriga di Piero del Vaccha da Vinci.

Leonardo's illegitimate status made it even more difficult to reconstruct his family tree.

"We checked documents and tombs as far as France and Spain in order to reconstruct the history of Leonardo's family," Vezzosi said.

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"We even found a unknown tomb of Leonardo's family in Vinci," he added.

Among the Renaissance genius's relatives are an architect, a policeman, a pastry chef, an accountant and a retired blacksmith.

"I heard this story about our Da Vinci's blood from my mother, but our family believed it was a legend," Giovanni Calosi, one of the descendants, said.

Da Vinci's relatives also include Italian director and opera producer Franco Zeffirelli, famous for his 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet.

Zeffirelli, whose real name is Gianfranco Corsi, comes from one of the most famous families in Vinci.

"The Corsis related with the Da Vincis in 1794 thanks to the marriage between Michelangelo di Tommaso Corsi and Teresa Alessandra Giovanna di Ser Antonio Giuseppe Da Vinci, direct descendant of Leonardo's father Ser Piero," Vezzosi said.

As much as it sounds fascinating, the research presents some weak points. Indeed, the results from archival research could be patchy if one, if not more, false paternities -- where the biological father is not the recorded father -- have occurred somewhere along the 500-year-old male line.

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"Regardless of the archival material, there is a strong probability of the male line especially being broken over such a large number of generations. Leonardo was himself illegitimate after all," historian Kevin Schürer, pro-vice-chancellor for research at the University of Leicester, told Discovery News.

Schürer found non-paternity, or breaks, when he worked on the genealogy of King Richard III. In that case, genetic research proved that it wasn't possible to trace a living relative on the male line through the Y chromosome, which is passed on from father to son.

In other words, a king may have been cuckolded, his wife giving birth to another man's child.

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"If they have been able to reliably trace male-line relatives with solid genealogical evidence then Y chromosome analysis would definitely be the way to go with the caveat that there could have been a false paternity, or paternities, along the way," Turi King, a geneticist at the University of Leicester who carried out the DNA analysis on King Richard III, told Discovery News.

"If I was going to do the DNA for this, I'd want to test a number of distantly related men from the tree and see if their Y chromosomes match such that we'd expect," King said.

"If they do, the higher up the tree they all connect (have a common ancestor) the better. In this way you can feel a bit safer, but not completely, that this is Da Vinci's Y chromosome type," she added.

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Vezzosi and Sabato agreed that reconstructing Da Vinci's family tree is the first step of a broader scientific study.

"After our findings, scientists may be able to isolate Da Vinci's DNA, 15 generations later," Vezzosi said.

The researchers announced that a two-day international conference will take place in May to discuss the possibility of isolating Da Vinci's DNA.

At left, Italian director and producer Franco Zeffirelli was named as one of Leonardo Da Vinci's living relatives by researchers.

Breathing Device Leonardo da Vinci was famously fascinated with translating nature's inventiveness into human technology. If birds can fly, he wrote, we not us? And likewise, if fish can breathe underwater... This model of an underwater breathing device, a predecessor to scuba gear, is thought to have been designed by da Vinci in the year 1508. It consists of animal skins that would serve as a sack around the swimmer's head, connected by a tube to the surface. The model was built based on drawings in da Vinci's journals.

Flying Machine This pen and ink sketch, circa 1500, is one of da Vinci's more famous designs. Though it was never built, da Vinci's "ornithopter" flying machine is thought by some to have inspired the first helicopter.

Wings Da Vinci produced more than 100 drawings illustrating his theories on flight. For him, as for modern scientists, detailed observation was a frequent starting point. He believed that the best answer to most any problem could be found in nature. This model, consisting of a jointed framework covered in a single layer of cloth and a hang glider, represents a drawing inspired by the wings of a bat. Frank Fehrenbach, a professor of art and art history at Harvard University and da Vinci expert, says the contraption stands out among da Vinci's inventions: "My favorites are Leonardo's hang-glider...because of its poetics of discovery; his scythed chariots because of their wonderful absurdity in warfare; and his self-propelled cart intended as a theater machine."

Walking on Water This model of a water-walking system conceived by da Vinci early in his life is displayed at the Leonardo Museum in Vinci, Italy, where he was born in 1452. In his drawings Leonardo referred to the contraption as "skis with which one can walk on water." "Leonardo's inspirations came from his capacity to assimilate his thought and imagination to functions and processes in nature," says Fehrenbach. "Nature was the master to compete with."

Links and Chains Though many of da Vinci's creations were never built, his ruminations on basic mechanics would serve as a model for gear and pulley systems in machinery for centuries to come. Pictured here are two of the 700 pages of manuscript found in the National Library of Madrid in 1967, having been lost for nearly two centuries. At right are links and chain drivers, much like those on modern bicycles. An escapement, upper left, is used to convert linear motion into rotary motion as a plunger is pushed down. At left center are two simple release mechanisms, like those found today in cranes.

Cannon Da Vinci is also well known for his war machines. Pictured here is a water-powered, gear-driven machine for manufacturing cannon barrels.

Crossbow This page from da Vinci's notebook details his most famous crossbow, including winding mechanism and trigger. Scholars doubt d Vinci or anyone in his day built this crossbow, but similar bows were part of Greek and Roman artillery long before da Vinci's birth.

Tank This cutaway view shows a 20th century model of a tank designed by da Vinci. Constructed of wood on a round base topped by a cone-shaped shell, its guns are evenly spaced, emerging from the base. Shaped to withstand the cannonballs of the day, it has four independent wheels propelled by manpower and may be driven in any direction.

Wagon The lifting device pictured here would use a log as a lever to bring a stone pillar into an upright position. The wagon is turned over with the pillar, then a rope would pull the log back up to lift the wagon and pillar. As with many da Vinci designs, it is unclear whether the device was ever used, or even built. Still, da Vinci was truly in a league of his own as an inventor, says Fehrenbach, with one caveat: "Benjamin Franklin didn't have Leonardo's imaginative mind, but was far more practical."