One of Leonardo Da Vinci's strangest paintings, "The Adoration of the Magi" was commissioned for the altar of the monastery of San Donato a Scopeto, near Florence, in 1481. The work was never finished.
In 1482, a 30-year-old Leonardo (1452-1519) abandoned the project to accept the post of court artist to the Duke of Milan.
Now on display at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the painting is considered one of Leonardo's most intriguing works.
Mentioned by Dan Brown in "The Da Vinci Code," it depicts the New Testament's account of the three wise men (or Magi) paying homage to the newborn Jesus and his mother, the Virgin Mary, in a bizarre landscape made of struggling horsemen, ruins and odd faces.
The nativity scene is rather unusual: no oxen, donkey or stable. Even St. Joseph is missing. Much of the foreground is obscured with strokes of monochrome paint. This unusual painting was enough to inspire Dan Brown's conspiracy theory that the original drawing was hidden.
Art diagnostic expert Maurizio Seracini, director of the Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture and Archaeology at the University of California, San Diego, and the only non-fictional living character mentioned in "The Da Vinci Code," shocked the art world in 2004 by hinting that the paint on "The Adoration of the Magi" was not applied by Leonardo.
The real masterwork was actually underneath, he said, to the joy of Dan Brown's fans.
"Using infrared technology, I found a totally new world which had been buried under brown paint for more than 500 years," Seracini told Discovery News
"It is the largest collection of drawings of people and animals realized by Leonardo in a single work," Seracini said.
Already discussed in academic meetings, the research and the drawings underneath were officially presented today for the first time in Florence's Palazzo Vecchio.
Underneath the faded browinsh ruins in the background, there isn't the crumbling pagan temple represented in the painting.
"Instead, we found a building site. The workers are represented with incredible attention to details, and indeed they show emotion," Seracini said. "There is no desperation, but positive feelings: They are reconstructing the roof in the face of a new Christian era."
Although the surface of the painting shows two horses fighting, the masterpiece underneath reveals a full-blown battle behind the Virgin Mary's head, with men screaming in terror or raising arms.
While the ox and donkey finally emerge with the missing stable, other animals appear, too, including an elephant.
Finely sketched details, such as the feet of the Virgin Mary, are clearly visible.
The face of the young shepherd boy, in the bottom right of the drawing, is finally visible with plenty of detail.
One of the most striking features buried under the brown paint is a series of masterfully drawn portraits.
"Each face is a masterpiece. The characters interact with each other; they talk and move. Quite an unusual scene for an adoration, which was usually intended as an aesthetic, still moment," Seracini said. "But this is Leonardo."