Art sleuth has 30-year quest: what happened to Leonardo's 'Battle of Anghiari' fresco?

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FLORENCE -— Maurizio Seracini claims not to be pleased that he is the only person mentioned by his real name in “The Da Vinci Code.” A scientist turned art detective, he has no need for any manufactured mystery around Leonardo. For 32 years he has chased a real one —- and he seems now, finally, poised to solve it.

It is a long, and satisfyingly complex, story. But it can be summed up with one question: What happened to “The Battle of Anghiari,” a grimacing crunch of men and horses considered by some experts to be Leonardo’s greatest painting?

Mr. Seracini thinks he knows, and he was recently given permission to restart his search, which involves using the most modern detecting equipment to peer through a 500-year-old wall in the Palazzo Vecchio here. On that wall, in 2002, he found a tantalizing crevice behind a Vasari fresco where the Leonardo may be.

If he succeeds, he could bring to light what one Leonardo scholar calls potentially “one of the great art finds of all time.” Or he could find nothing. Or he could find the painting wrecked by time and its own defects. In any case, after three obsessive decades Mr. Seracini is very much on the hook.

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