The secrets to Leonardo da Vinci’s genius are closer to being revealed after researchers identified 14 living descendants from the male line of his family tree.
They range from children to a surveyor, an upholsterer, farmers, office workers and – appropriately – an artist.
The youngest is a one-year-old baby while the oldest is 85. They still live in Tuscany, where Leonardo came from.
"Leonardo is the incomparable genius and it is an honour for me to share an infinitesimal part of his genetic heritage," said Paolo Vinci, the eldest of the descendants. "It is a source of great pride for me."
It had been rumoured for decades in his family that they might be descended from Leonardo, but nothing had come of it until now.
‘My initial disbelief turned to pride’
Gianni Vinci, 62, who is an artist, joked: "Maybe for some of my work Leonardo turned in his grave, but for the rest I hope he is proud."
He said he was "amazed" to learn he was genetically linked to the Renaissance icon. "My initial disbelief then turned to pride."
Scientists now want to take DNA samples from the descendants, which they hope will shed light on the Renaissance polymath’s extraordinary artistic prowess, his scientific intuition and his left-handedness. They also want to investigate the reasons behind Leonardo’s "peculiar sensory perceptions".
Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci
Credit: Universal History Archive
Presenting their research in the journal Human Evolution, Professors Alessandro Vezzosi and Agnese Sabato wrote: "The present genealogy, which spans almost 700 years, can be used to verify the unbroken transmission of the Y chromosome, with a view to confirming… Leonardo’s Y marker."
Identifying Leonardo’s genetic profile could also help in verifying the authenticity of artworks attributed to him if they contain tiny traces of his DNA.
Artist’s family tree spans 21 generations
The Italian researchers spent years trawling through historical records to draw Leonardo’s family tree. They have now managed to map the family tree from 1331 through to Leonardo’s birth in 1452 near the town of Vinci in Tuscany, and on to the present day, comprising 21 generations.
They say they have filled in gaps and corrected mistakes in previous genealogical research relating to the artist’s family.
The historians had already identified 35 living descendants of Leonardo five years ago. However, they had come through female lines of the family tree and were less useful to genealogists – even though one was the legendary film director Franco Zeffirelli – as the Y chromosome that males carry is clearly traceable to a single individual.
"They were not people who could give us useful information on Leonardo’s DNA and in particular on the Y chromosome, which is transmitted to male descendants and remains almost unchanged for 25 generations," Professor Vezzosi, an art historian and the founder of a museum dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci, told Italy’s national news agency.
The new group of 14 living relatives come from the male line of the family tree.
‘Good deal of incredulity and perplexity’
"Some of these families had legends and stories about them being possibly linked to Leonardo. Some of the people were teased at school – kids would say ‘Who do you think you are, a descendant of Leonardo da Vinci?’" Professor Sabato, the president of the Leonardo Da Vinci Heritage Association, told The Telegraph.
"When we told them they were related to Leonardo, there was a good deal of incredulity and perplexity.
"The descendants not only live in Tuscany, they still live fairly near the town of Vinci. It is such a beautiful region, there is not much reason to move away."
Leonardo, who was probably gay, produced no children but he did have more than 20 half-brothers.
The findings will contribute to research carried out by an international study group called The Leonardo Da Vinci DNA Project. The project aims to determine if remains, buried at the Chateau d’Amboise in France, really do belong to Leonardo, as is claimed.