Look in any biography of Leonardo da Vinci, no matter how brief, and it will tell you he died in 1519. Some even say he died in the arms of the King of France, with whom he was living at the time. But there are serious problems with this date.
First, we have a self portrait by him that experts say was painted around 1512, when he was 60, yet the image is clearly not of a sixty year old gentleman. It is of someone in their seventies, as I, at the age of 70, know all too well.
But it is not just the age of the fellow that is a problem. Close examination reveals that there is a wealth of hidden test, written right across the portrait, in a slightly greyer writing. Selecting this hue, and some closely adjacent colours only, and leaving the rest black makes some of the hidden content easier to see (I did this in Photoshop, using the colour selection tool, setting HSB 30/52/75 fuzziness 55, and choosing the resulting luceme):
Apart from the fact that a second portrait is visible, if we allow our eyes to rest on any area for a minute or so, a panoply of text soon becomes apparent. Deciphering it is REALLY daunting, but that there IS text is incontrovertible (except for those who fall in the ‘none so blind’ category!). With effort and patience, it can be decoded, though, and what it reveals is revolutionary. That is another story, though, and I can only touch on one aspect here.
Art in this era was generally dated down in the bottom right hand corner, and if we look, you may be able to make out a number of faint and well concealed ’25s’. They are visible both in the original and in the ‘selected colour’ version immediately above, even though he drew the ‘2’ and the ‘5’ in different tones, making the camouflage even more effective.
The bottom line is that if he drew this in 1525, then he would have been 73, and the age of the guy makes sense. And if so, then equally obvious, he didn’t die in 1519. He faked it. And we know this also from another, and most unexpected source. There is a magnificent Persian painting in the Aga Khan’s collection featuring the Court of Gayumars, in the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp, and painted between 1522 and 1525 (http://www.akdn.org/museum/detail.asp?artifactid=1730).
The painting is signed, repeatedly. And the signature is nothing short of astounding. I’ve drawn in the letters here, in two of the four versions leaving alternate letters blank so you can more easily see the artist’s original text:
Incredulity is quite appropriate. It’s what I felt. And then anxiety. After all, if I mention what I saw, people will think I’m crazy. If I don’t, what kind of researcher am I? I didn’t want to believe it. But that the signature is genuine becomes insistently clear when one examines the rest of the painting. We find latin script everywhere – not only further signatures, but annotations referring to Uccello, to someone called Davide or Davido, and to the Fregoso and Eyck families. Despite the style, this was clearly not the work of a Persian hand.
We know that as a child Leonardo made a journey out of Europe with his birth father, fleeing his mother’s husband (see ‘Feathers from a Fleeing Phoenix’), and that he engaged liberally in the great age of discovery, making extensive travels by ship – this is referred to elsewhere in the blog (‘Other Side of the Smile’), and on my Facebook page. But that he travelled to Persia in 1520 was a profound shock to me. That he then deployed his paintbrush with a passion to emulate the local style I could understand, but to travel so far at the age of nearly 70, that took me into denial for a month. But it is there in his self portrait of 1525 also, where he makes a great list of all the places he travelled to, and the year of his journey. And included are two trips to Persia, not one. He liked it so much first time he decided to ‘die’ in Europe, and go back.
But the question that then arises, when we know he faked it in 1519, is – when really did Leonardo da Vinci die? And there are at least two paintings that tell us…