Fifteen Generations Later, 35 Of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Living Relatives Found In Tuscany

Giovanni Calosi once heard a family story about how Leonardo Da Vinci‘s blood ran through their veins.

His mother talked about having letters and documents written backwards, only legible if read through a mirror, he told the Guardian — Da Vinci used mirrored script.

“We never gave any importance to those documents, which were lost and sold. What we thought was a legend passed down through generations turns out to be the truth.”

Two historians claim to have traced da Vinci’s genealogy to 35 living relatives, still living in Tuscany, according to Discovery News. Among his relatives are a painter, engineer, architect, mathematician, philosopher, and naturalist, as well as a policeman, a pastry chef, accountant, and retired blacksmith.

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Historian Agnese Sabato and art historian Alessandro Vezzosi began their research in 1973, BBC noted, searching documents in Italy, France, and Spain. Their claims are not based on DNA evidence, because da Vinci’s body vanished in the 16th century. The fact that the Renaissance master was illegitimate also complicates the incredible conclusions a bit.

Leonardo da Vinci — painter, inventor, and mathematician — was born in the Tuscan town of Vinci in 1452. He never married and apparently had no direct descendents. The Renaissance man died in 1519 in France, and his bones were soon dispersed during religious wars.

So Sabato and Vezzosi studied da Vinci’s paper trail instead of his bones, starting with documents left behind by his grandfather, Antonio. He recorded his grandson’s birth and identified son Ser Piero as the father. His mother was mentioned in Antonio’s notes later, and named her as Caterina, the wife of a different man — Achattabriga di Piero del Vaccha da Vinci.

This illegitimacy made it difficult for historians to rebuild his family tree and find living relatives.

“We checked documents and tombs as far as France and Spain in order to reconstruct the history of Leonardo’s family,” Vezzosi said. “We even found an unknown tomb of Leonardo’s family in Vinci.”

The historians presented their research in Florence this week and will next look at the DNA of his living relatives to confirm the findings.

Oscar-nominated director Franco Zeffirelli was one of those told that he’s a descendent of da Vinci. In the past, he’d jokingly referenced a family connection. Architect Elena Calosi is another of the lucky living relatives, and she was delighted to hear the news.

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“How does it feel to be descended from Leonardo da Vinci? 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?”

But because there’s no DNA evidence to link these living descendents to da Vinci, the research is a little shaky.

Critics are concerned about false paternities (the biological and recorded father are different men) uncovered during archival research. Over 500 years, that’s pretty likely to happen.

“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 noted.

Geneticist Turi King noted that the only way to “reliably trace male-line relatives” is to use Y chromosome analysis.

“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. 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.”

And that’s the next step — to isolate da Vinci’s DNA 15 generations after he lived. They’ll discuss the possibility at a conference next month.

[Photo by NastyaSigne/Shutterstock]