Historians used historical documents to reconstruct 15 generations of Leonardo da Vinci’s family tree, which includes Oscar-nominated director Franco Zeffirelli.
When Leonardo, the most famous Renaissance painter, inventor and mathematician, died in France in 1519, he left behind world-renowned masterpieces such as the Mona Lisa, 6000 journal pages and many unanswered questions about his personal life.
A pair of historians, Alessandro Vezzosi and Agnese Sabatoun, attempted to shed some light on the master’s genealogy when they unveiled their research in Florence this week. They focused on Leonardo’s paternal line, starting with his father Ser Piero da Vinci, a Florentine legal notary, and his grandfather Antonio da Vinci.
Their work is based on tombs and documents such as estate papers, from Italy, France and Spain. It reveals newly discovered burial grounds for Leonardo’s family, as well as 35 living relatives (not direct descendants, as Leonardo is not known to have married or fathered any children).
The historians relied purely on paper-trail research rather than DNA evidence because Leonardo’s remains were apparently moved during the French revolution in 1789 and no one has ever been able to confirm whether his named tomb at Amboise Castle in the Loire valley actually houses them. The historians said, however, that they would next try to trace Leonardo’s DNA through the relatives.
The relatives, who live in Florence and surrounding Tuscany villages (including the village of Vinci), include a policeman, a chef, an accountant, a blacksmith and an architect. The architect, Elena Calosi, said: “Obviously I’m surprised, but happy, happy also for my grandmother who is no more, who was proud to have the name Vinci. Who has not studied Leonardo or seen his paintings?”
The revelation may be less of a surprise for Franco Zeffirelli, who was born and raised in Vinci with the surname Corsi. In 2007, when he accepted the Leonardo award from the then Italian president, Zeffirelli said: “The Corsis, who are my family, were also descendants of Leonardo.” He was thought to have been joking at the time.