Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian polymath and the quintessential renaissance man. He was a painter, an architect, a theorist, and a scientist known for his work of art and his notebooks full inventions. For several years, a project has been going to track his descendants – and it has found at least 14.
These results from the Leonardo da Vinci DNA project are reported in the journal Human Evolution. The aim of the project is to confirm if the remains found in the Amboise Castle, purported to be his, are actually his own. But it might even extend to the analysis of the genomics of him and his descendants to understand if there are genetic associations with his incredible talents and visual acuity.
The paper builds on previous work in trying to create an accurate family tree of the da Vinci or Vinci family from Leonardo’s ancestors to living relatives. The new research identified 14 male living relatives between the age of one and 85 years old, all from Tuscany, mostly around the town of Vinci where the family comes from.
These relations add to the other 35 known descendants – both men and women – that had been identified in 2016. The new "cohort" is made up of people with the same Y chromosome. The chromosome doesn’t appear to change for about 25 generations, and so it allowed researchers to go back to Michele da Vinci – ancestor to Leonardo – to Leonardo himself as the sixth generation in the family, to finally the 21st generation of living descendants.
None of these are direct descendants of Leonardo himself, who did not have any children. Many historians and biographers believe he was homosexual. Some would say it would be improper to suggest he was "gay", as it is a modern label – but we often label anyone who fathered children as heterosexual without considering their sexuality, so this digression is important. When he was 23, Leonardo was arrested with three other men for sodomy. While the case was dismissed for lack of evidence, he is believed to have spent time in jail for it. This inspired two inventions: one to open prisons from the inside and one for tearing bars off windows. Talk about direct action.
While Leonardo did not have offspring, his father had plenty. Leonardo had at least 22 half-brothers. Their descendants have now been tracked, and the most complete family tree of the da Vinci family across 690 years has been completed.
The next step will be confirming if the remains truly belong to Leonardo. If this is the case, the DNA might be used to authenticate work of art allegedly made by him amongst other investigations planned by the project.