Rome -- This year, myriad celebrations of Renaissance-era genius Leonardo da Vinci are opening across Europe to mark the 500th anniversary of his death.
The Italian and French presidents on Thursday commemorated him at his tombstone in Amboise, in France's Loire Valley, where da Vinci died at age 67. Invited by the French king Francois I to live in a small castle next to the Royal Chateau D'Amboise, Da Vinci spent the last three years of his life feted in grand style.
Da Vinci's birthplace, northwest of Florence, also is vying for attention on Thursday by opening a new exhibit to complement existing tourist attractions. The new exhibition will include small strands of dark hair that belonged to da Vinci and which were acquired from a private U.S. collection -- on view for the first time.
Alessandro Vezzosi, director of the museum, and Agnese Sabato, president of the Leonardo da Vinci Heritage Foundation, hope the hair strands can be used to learn even more about the celebrated genius. They plan to carry out DNA tests on the hair strands and compare them to others they believe belong to living descendants of the artist's brother. Results also will be compared to bones found in Amboise that some believe belonged to da Vinci.
The joint Franco-Italian da Vinci celebrations on Thursday come after months of mounting diplomatic tension between the two nations -- although a feud between the two countries over his artwork goes back decades.
Earlier this year, Italy's interior minister provoked matters by saying the "Mona Lisa" should be returned to Italy. Italian officials angered the French further by saying they'd refuse to loan pieces of da Vinci's art to the Louvre for a massive show scheduled for October. It's still unclear whether Italy will loan France these pieces.
Known also for "The Last Supper" and "Vitruvian Man," as well as his codex, notebooks and sketches, da Vinci's works have fascinated millions for centuries. His interests spanned art, architecture, science, music and math to name just a few.
Inventions including the parachute, bicycle and helicopter often are traced back to studies or sketches dreamed up by da Vinci, who last month was determined to be ambidextrous by experts cited by Italy's Uffizi Gallery. The Uffizi opened a new room dedicated to da Vinci last year and plans to analyze another 30 of the artist's drawings in hopes of discovering even more about the man.
In 1994, Bill Gates bought the Codex Leicester for $30.8 million, the most expensive book ever sold, and in 2017 a painting attributed to da Vinci, "Salvator Mundi," sold for a world record $450.4 million at auction.