Nearly 500 years after his death, we’re still discovering new surprises in the journals Leonardo da Vinci left behind. London's British Library recently used multispectral imaging to uncover the remnants of a male nude sketch that was erased half a millennium ago.
According to Hyperallergic, the drawing was discovered in the artist’s Codex Arundel papers, which is named for the collection’s former owner Thomas Howard, 14th Earl of Arundel. To capture the lost sketch, imaging scientists at the British Library Center for Conservation placed the area of interest underneath a monochrome sensor camera and photographed it at varying wavelengths. By combining the images together, researchers were able to draw new information from the page without damaging it. Multispectral imaging is the same technique that was used to detect over 60 tattoos on Oetzi the Iceman and reveal a lost portrait beneath a 1901 Picasso painting.
Experts can’t say why the nude was erased so thoroughly or who did the erasing, but that hasn’t stopped people from speculating. Art history professor at Oxford University Martin Kemp told The Sunday Times that the figure resembles Michelangelo’s David, and Leonardo himself may have erased it "because he did not want people to think he was full of adulation for Michelangelo."
The page containing the hidden sketch will be on display in the Treasures of the British Library exhibit in London from now until the end of March.