More on the Battle of Anghiari: the 'search finds' hoax

We clarify with this article why the inscription 'Search finds' in Giorgio Vasari's Battle of Marciano does not refer to Leonardo's Battle of Anghiari.

While looking for material to write the summary of the search for Leonardo da Vinci’s Battle of Anghiari, the wall painting that Maurizio Seracini and his team would like to find under Giorgio Vasari ’s Battle of Marciano della Chiana in the Salone dei Cinquecento (Palazzo Vecchio, Florence), we came across an impressive series of articles from the most disparate sources (newspapers, magazines, blogs, websites, forums and whatnot) that report an observation by Seracini himself. An observation that according to many would be a huge and unequivocal clue to the presence of Leonardo’s painting below Vasari’s. An article in March in the Corriere Fiorentino reads, "In the 1970s, Seracini noticed the words ’seek find’ painted in Vasari’s fresco and began to believe that it was a clue to solving the mystery of the lost Leonardo."1 Or again, from La Nazione: "An essential piece of evidence for Seracini is the words ’Seek find,’ imprinted above a painted banner in Vasari’s fresco."2

The inscription in question, “Cerca trova,” is found depicted on a green banner carried by Florentine rebels fighting on the side of the Sienese clashed with the Medici army at Marciano della Chiana. Now, it would only take a modicum of common sense to avoid thinking that that is, as the newspapers (and Seracini) would have us believe, irrefutable proof that Vasari hid the lost Leonardo painting under the Battle of Marciano della Chiana. Even the parochial entertainer most short of ideas would be able to come up with some finer contrivance to make it clear that underneath one painting there is another, and to think that Vasari was so trivial and obvious as to write “Search finds” to indicate that underneath his fresco would be Leonardo da Vinci’s Battle of Anghiari would greatly diminish the greatness of one of the greatest historiographers ever (as well as one of the leading exponents of Mannerism).

Giorgio Vasari, La battaglia di Scannagallo (1565 circa; affresco; Firenze, Palazzo Vecchio)
Giorgio Vasari, The Battle of Scannagallo (c. 1565; fresco; Florence, Palazzo Vecchio)

La scritta 'Cerca trova' nell'affresco di Vasari
The inscription ’Search Finds’ in Vasari’s fresco

Therefore, to understand that ’Search Finds’ inscription, it is necessary to delve into the battle that was fought at Marciano della Chiana on August 2, 1554. The clash, also known as the Battle of Scannagallo after the name of the ditch near which it was fought, pitted Florentines, Imperials and Spaniards against each other on one side, all commanded by Gian Giacomo de’ Medici, and Sienese, French and Swiss (as well as Florentine outcasts) on the other: the Sienese forces were commanded by Piero Strozzi, also a Florentine (let us not forget that the Strozzi were practically lifelong rivals of the Medici).

All this took place in the context of the wars against Siena, which finally surrendered to Florence in 1559, the year in which the Republic of Siena ceased to exist and its territories went into the Florentine ones (and of course it was also the year of the triumphal entry into Siena of the Duke of Florence Cosimo de’ Medici, who later became Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1569). The battle of Marciano della Chiana was won by the Florentines, and the episode marked the beginning of the end for Siena because the army under the command of Piero Strozzi suffered a very serious defeat and in fact left the way clear for Florence to conquer Siena.

The clash is described in great detail in the Istorie Fiorentine by the Florentine historian Bernardo Segni (1504-1558), who also describes to us some of the flags carried by the Florentines’ adversaries: and it is here that we begin to understand that that “Cerca trova” noted by Seracini refers to a completely different situation. In fact, we read in Bernardo Segni, about the young Florentine outcasts who fought alongside the Sienese and the French: "To these the King Henry of France, to animate them more in this regard, had given them twenty flags, which were green in color, with the name of liberty written on them with that verse of Dante: Libertà vo cercando, ch’è sì cara."3 A green flag, like the one painted by Vasari, and with a motto that is not so dissimilar to the one we read on the fresco. And we also know that other flags, also green, bore other mottos extolling the freedom of Florence (understood as freedom from the Medici), for example the inscription Libertas or the initials SPQF(Senatus Popolusque Florentinus, “the senate and the Florentine people”). But why did Vasari decide to write “Cerca trova” and not the entire Dante verse that according to Segni decorated the flags of the rebels?

To answer this question we are helped by an art historian who noticed the inscription “Cerca trova” well before Seracini: now it is not possilbe to know whether Maurizio Seracini believes he was the first to have noticed it, but in that case it will be necessary to inform him that it comes at least second. In 1969, in fact, art historian Lionello Giorgio Boccia published in the magazine L’Arte an essay entitled Un inedito dello Stradano: la Rotella Odescalchi within which reference was made not only to Vasari’s fresco depicting the battle of Marciano della Chiana, but also to the flags carried by the alignments, among which, of course, was the green one with the inscription “Cerca trova”! Here is what Boccia wrote about the flags: "Others, numerous in number, are green and were, as we have seen, those of the anti-Medicean Florentine outlaws. These green flags also appear in Vasari’s great fresco, but instead of the LIBERTAS S.P.Q.F. that was supposed to appear there, one of them (the penultimate one toward the extreme left wing of the Strozzi) is inscribed, with heavy irony, ’he who seeks finds,’ to allude to the false search for freedom of the outcasts, who had become a foreign instrument and now found just punishment."4

So the phrase that many would like as irrefutable proof that Vasari hid the Battle of Anghiari would actually be a sarcastic motto, a motto of mockery towards a group of rebellious exiles (obviously considered traitors to Florence) who by fighting alongside Siena were seeking a way to free Florence from the Medici, and for that freedom they had sought, they had in return found a very harsh punishment, for many as a result of the clash were taken prisoner, brought to Florence and then executed. Here then is explained the meaning of that “Seek Finds” inserted on the green banner. Or do we still want to continue to believe that Vasari organized a very trivial treasure hunt, resulting in Giorgio Vasari being transformed from an artist-historian of art into a tourist entertainer?


1. Federica Sanna, In search of the lost Leonardo, "There is the same blackness as the Mona Lisa, " from Corriere Fiorentino, March 12, 2012
2. Leonardo, The Last Secret. The docufilm that tells the battle of Anghiari, from La Nazione, March 12, 2012↑
3. Bernardo Segni, Istorie Fiorentine dall’anno MDXXVII al MDLV, Barbera, Bianchi e comp. edition, 1857, book XIV, pp. 547-548. A digital version of the text is available at this address.
4. Lionello Giorgio Boccia, Un inedito dello Stradano: la Rotella Odescalchi, in L’Arte, vol. 5, 1969, p. 111.