A DNA study that aims to yield a better understanding of Leonardo Da Vinci’s genius has mapped a family tree for the great Renaissance artist that stretches back nearly seven centuries and turned up 14 living descendants.
The probe, lead by art historians Alessandro Vezzosi and Agnese Sabato, traced da Vinci’s male lineage to his great-great-great-grandfather, Michele, who was born in 1331 and the first to bear the family name. The pair’s genealogical research, published in the journal Human Evolution, stretches back 21 generations and across five family branches of the man who gave us the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper and Vitruvian Man, his famous sketch of the male human’s proportions.
The living descendants they discovered range in age from 1 to 85.
The hope is that mapping the great painter, scientist, engineer and architect’s genome will give art historians a greater understanding of the man and how his health contributed to his artistry. They’re hoping the DNA they’ve uncovered will help shed some light on his extraordinary vision, left-handedness and premature aging, among other questions.
The discovery is remarkable, given that da Vinci’s remains have been missing since the 18th century and he had no known children. Da Vinci was born out of wedlock in 1452 near the Tuscan hill town of Vinci. His father, Piero, was a Florentine attorney and notary. And apparently, he was prolific, as da Vinci had at least 22 half-brothers.
After da Vinci died in 1519, he was buried in the chapel of Saint-Florentin at the Chateau d’Amboise in Frances’s Loire valley, but the chapel was destroyed during the French Revolution more than 200 years later. Bones believed to be da Vinci’s were retrieved and interred in the chateau’s smaller chapel, Saint-Hubert.
The researchers are working with the Leonardo Da Vinci DNA Project to determine whether the remains interred at Saint-Hubert chapel are those of da Vinci.
The five family branches researchers identified were traced through Piero (5th generation) and half-brother Domenico (6th). Since the 15th generation, data has been collected on over 225 individuals, the researchers said.
Similar research revealed in 2016 identified 35 living relatives of da Vinci, mostly indirect descendants, including females and Italian 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, which is transmitted to male descendants and remains almost unchanged for 25 generations,” Vezzosi told Italian wire service ANSA.
Comparing the Y chromosome of living male relatives with that of their ancestors could map an uninterrupted family line and identify da Vinci’s own Y chromosome marker, the researchers explained.
Da Vinci’s descendants still live in the Tuscan region of his birth and include farmers, office workers, an upholsterer and an artist. While the family name was originally rooted in its place of origin, the “da” was discarded over time.
Geovanni Vinci, 62, is also an artist but says he doesn’t think he has “anything in common with Leonardo.”
“Maybe for some of my work Leonardo turned in his grave — but for the rest I hope he is proud,” he told the Evening Standard.