A hidden message in a painting has led to the first evidence of a 'lost' Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece that has lain hidden for 400 years in a secret compartment behind another mural in Florence, scientists announced today. An 'endoscopic' probe was inserted into the interior of the wall in the Palazzo Vechio, and obtained chemical samples of a dark pigment which Da Vinci also used in the Mona Lisa. The painting is thought to be one of Da Vinci's most significant works - but was long assumed to have been destroyed by fire in the 16th century. Now researchers believe that it may have been preserved by a hidden wall built by another painter. Archaeologists began to investigate behind the mural in the Palazzo Vechio after an archaeologist found the words, 'cerca trova' - 'seek and you shall find' - hidden in the mural thought to have replaced Da Vinci's work, by painter Giorgio Vasari. The probe was fitted with a camera and allowed a team of researchers, led by scientist Maurizio Seracini, to see what was behind the Vasari and gather samples for further testing. They found a black material similar to pigments used in the Mona Lisa, as well as beige material which seems to have been applied with a brush. The endoscope also found an 'air gap', which hints that Vasari may have preserved Da Vinci's masterpiece by building a wall in front of it before painting his own mural. 'These data are very encouraging,' said National Geographic Fellow Maurizio Seracini. 'Although we are ...

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