Study reveals 14 living descendants of Renaissance maestro Leonardo da Vinci

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Renaissance painter, sculptor, and architect Leonardo da Vinci died more than 500 years ago, but his direct bloodline lives on in the form of a handful of people including an artisan, a surveyor, and an office clerk.

Research by Agnese Sabato and Alessandro Vezzosi, published this month in the scientific journal Human Evolution, reconstructed the da Vinci family tree over the course of 21 generations dating back to 1331. The research, which is ongoing, has so far identified 14 direct relatives along the male line of the family tree, all of them in Tuscany and all with the family name Vinci.

Sabato and Vezzosi, who are married, have co-authored multiple books on da Vinci. Sabato, a historian, is president of the Leonardo Da Vinci Heritage Association, while Vezzosi, an art critic, is the founder of the Museo Ideale, which is dedicated to da Vinci. Vezzosi began the research project in 1973.

Because da Vinci never married and was childless, all of the 14 direct relatives are descents of Ser Piero da Vinci, the Renaissance master's father, and his half-brother Domenico da Vinci. The family name comes from the town of Vinci, near the Tuscan capital of Florence.

"What is remarkable is that all of the people we have found are just regular people with ordinary jobs," Vezzosi, himself a native of Vinci, told Xinhua. He said only one of the 14 knew previously that he was related to the famed maestro. "Everyone we identified as a descendant was named Vinci, although not everyone named Vinci is a descendant."

The researchers did not identify the descendants in order to protect their privacy. But one of da Vinci's distant relatives, Giovanni Vinci, a 62-year-old painter, admitted to being one of those identified. But despite his profession, Giovanni told the British newspaper The Evening Standard that his work "had nothing to do with Leonardo."

"Some of my work might make Leonardo turn in his grave," he said. "But for some of it, I hope he would be proud."

The findings differ from the research that identified 35 living relatives of da Vinci five years ago. That group, which included now-deceased film director and opera producer Franco Zeffirelli, were mostly indirect relatives, via the female lines of the sprawling family tree. The new research, which is more precise, is based on the Y-chromosome, meaning it includes only male relatives.

The researchers said there were five main branches to the patrilineal family tree they studied. Those identified by the latest research range in age from one to 85.

According to Sabato, the research will help "explore the roots" of da Vinci's genius, and the techniques used could be applied to mapping the family trees of other long-dead historical figures. The data gathered could also be used to determine if his purported gravesite in France really holds his remains.

Sabato said there is also work to be done in order to determine if da Vinci's living relatives have some of his genetic characteristics, such as high intelligence, creativity, left-handedness, or synesthesia -- a neurological condition in which the stimulation of one sensory pathway is experienced by two or more of those pathways.

Da Vinci, who was born in 1452 near Vinci, died in France in 1519. 

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