Collage of work by Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci project discovers 14 living relatives

Culture News

Researchers aim to reconstruct the genealogical profile of Leonardo da Vinci to understand his genius.

A study into the family history of Leonardo Da Vinci, the Italian Renaissance artist, claims to have found 14 living relatives. Although da Vinci never married and had no children, he did have at least 22 half-brothers.

The decades-long project, led by art historians Alessandro Vezzosi and Agnese Sabato, documents a continuous male line spanning 690 years.

Leonardo da Vinci’s line

The line starts with Leonardo’s grandfather, Michele, who was born in 1331. It traces 21 generations and five family branches, to the 14 living descendants today.

Renaissance man da Vinci was the illegitimate son of a notary in the Tuscan town of Vinci in 1452. He died in Amboise, France, in 1519. Da Vinci was an artist, scientist, engineer and architect.

Da Vinci was originally buried in the chapel of Saint-Florentin at the Chateau d’Amboise in France. However, the chapel was destroyed during the French revolution. Leonardo’s bones were removed and interred in the chateau’s smaller chapel, Saint-Hubert. It is not guaranteed that those are da Vinci’s remains.

Following the Y-chromosome

The researchers followed the Y-chromosome, which fathers pass on to sons.  Vezzosi told the news agency Ansa, it remained almost unchanged for 25 generations.

In 2016, the project also identified 35 living relatives of Leonardo, including many from the female line. However, they were mostly indirect descendants. The most famous of those indirect descendants was said to be the late 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,” added Vezzosi.

Of the living relatives, Vezzosi said: “They are aged between one and 85, they don’t live right in Vinci but in neighbouring municipalities as far as Versilia (on the Tuscan coast) and they have ordinary jobs like a clerk, a surveyor, an artisan.”

The next stage of the project is to analyse the 14 relatives’ DNA. Their Y-chromosome will be compared with that of their ancestors in burial sites.

The project also collated data from historical documents in public and private archives. There is also anecdotal evidence provided by surviving descendants.

The results of the latest study are published in the Human Evolution journal.

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