How would you feel if the author of a fiction book that's sold more than 40 million copies included you in it as a character, using your real name and job description, but never told you about it?
That's what happened to Maurizio Seracini, the only non-fictional character appearing in The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown's runaway bestseller about a fictional conspiracy to hide the "truth" about Jesus -- that he was married to Mary Magdalene and had a child.
In the book, clues about this conspiracy, which is supposedly perpetrated by the Catholic Church, emerge through the art of Leonardo da Vinci. The movie version of Brown's story premiers this week at the Cannes Film Festival.
When I met with Seracini in his breathtaking office just across from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, I thought he was joking at first. "You never met, spoke or e-mailed Dan Brown?" I asked. "Never had the pleasure," he replied.
In The Da Vinci Code, Brown describes Seracini as an "art diagnostician." With a title like that, I thought, you can't be a real
person, or in any case that's not a real
job. But Seracini's work not only exists, it's actually very important.
His office looks like a state-of-the-art laboratory, with machines you would normally find in a hospital. He uses them to study the origins of works of art, analysing the composition of the materials -- e.g. the wood, the paint, the wax, the canvass -- to establish how old they are and to advise curators and art galleries on how best to preserve them.
Seracini can certify scientifically whether a certain work of art was actually produced by Leonardo da Vinci or an impostor.
"How do you do that?" I asked. "It's simple," he replied with a broad smile. "I look for his fingerprints."
No wonder Dan Brown chose him as one of his characters. (By the way, if you have the book on hand, you can find Seracini in chapter 40).