Could DNA testing verify Leonardo da Vinci’s hair?

DNA testing

Two art historians are claiming to possess a lock of hair which belonged to Leonardo da Vinci. In the week that coincides with the 500th anniversary of da Vinci’s death, they plan on conducting DNA testing to confirm the identity of the hair’s owner. Leonardo da Vinci died of a probable stroke on 2nd May 1519, aged 67.

Alessandro Vezzosi, Director of the Museo Ideale Leonardo da Vinci, and Agnese Sabato, President of the Leonardo da Vinci Heritage Foundation, say the hair had been found in a private American collection.

“We found, across the Atlantic, a lock of hair historically tagged ‘Les Cheveux de Leonardo da Vinci’” French for ‘Leonardo da Vinci’s hair’”, Sabato said in a statement.

“This historical relic … has long remained hidden in an American collection. It will now be exposed for the first time, along with documents attesting [to] its ancient French provenance”, said Vezzosi.

The famous Renaissance artist is believed to have been buried in the Chapel of Saint-Florentin, which was destroyed during the French revolution. In the late 19th century, what is believed to be da Vinci’s bones were discovered while the ruins of the chapel were being excavated. The bones were placed at the Chapel of Saint-Hubert, located at Château d’Amboise.

Sabato and Vezzosi want to perform DNA testing on the hair and compare it to the presumed remains at the Amboise tomb. Critics, however, claim that it will be impossible to confirm whether the hair came from the artist since there are no reliable living descendants to compare the DNA with. Extracting DNA from the hair may also not be straightforward as the original genetic material may be degraded or contaminated. In addition, the bones at the Amboise tomb could belong to anyone given the original ransacking.

Y Chromosome testing

Sabato and Vezzosi have proposed comparing genetic material from the lock of hair to that belonging to da Vinci’s living descendants. In 2016, they claimed to have identified 35 living relatives who are linked to da Vinci’s father via the artist’s brother. Da Vinci did not marry or have children himself. However, there are only two types of DNA that can be traced reliably over the centuries. One is mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited only from the mother’s side and is passed on through an unbroken female line. Similarly, Y chromosome DNA comes from the father and is passed on to the next generation through an unbroken male line. The relatives identified by Vezzosi and Sabato don’t represent unbroken male or female lines, and as such cannot be used to reliably confirm whether the hair did, in fact, belong to da Vinci.

Meanwhile, US researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute are testing paintings, drawings and notebooks which belonged to da Vinci looking for traces of his DNA. If fingerprints, skin flakes or strands of hair can be obtained, this DNA could be compared to the newly found lock of hair. AlphaBiolabs offers a full range of DNA relationship testing, which you can order direct from our website. Further details on our Y DNA testing can be found on our webpage. Alternatively, contact us via Live Chat or call now at 727-325-2902.

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