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New clues in search for missing da Vinci fresco

Investigator says key may lie behind a Florence palazzo wall. NBC News correspondent Keith Miller reports.
/ Source: TODAY

A lost Leonardo fresco and tantalizing hints that remnants may still exist — hidden behind a wall in a Florence palazzo — has the art world abuzz. NBC News correspondent Keith Miller has more on the real life Leonardo da Vinci mystery.

For 30 years, art work detective Maurizio Seracini has been searching for Leonardo da Vinci's lost fresco.

And now Seracini has found a breakthrough in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio. A small cavity in a wall may hold the key to a long lost secret, he says.

"Now we have to go beyond that wall and see with other technologies what is there to be possibly seen as well as analyzed," Seracini says.

The cavity lies behind murals by Georgio Vasari, an admirer of da Vinci, where an inscription on a flag says, "Search ... find!"

Other artists reproduced da Vinci's "Battle of Anghiari" using the master's drawings, but the original fresco has not been seen since 1563.

"All we know about it is the central scene which is familiarly reproduced, which is an equestrian battle in which mounted cavalry are fighting one another with swords," says art historian David Lee.

The work may have been destroyed, painted over or hidden for safety. But it was da Vinci’s largest and possibly most important work.

"We know he painted it, we know he had problems with it," says Karl Sabbagh of the Kalpa Group, which finances Seracini's research. "The paint dripped, it didn't dry properly, and so on."

Seracini uses medical and military technology to peer through walls in search of the missing fresco.

In his lifetime Leonardo completed only 12 paintings, and the possibility of discovering a lost work is sending a ripple through the art world. Even if only fragments of the painting are found it would be the greatest discovery in art in 100 years. The challenge is how to reach what could be da Vinci’s fresco without damaging the existing murals.

Seracini, the only real life character in Dan Brown's best seller "The da Vinci Code," says he wants use to fiber optics and ultrasound scanning.

It is a treasure, Seracini says, that must be found for posterity.

Leonardo da Vinci is already one of the most important names in the history of art. If the fresco is discovered, it may surpass his "Last Supper" and the "Mona Lisa" as his greatest work.