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Leonardo masterpiece found hidden behind wall

ART historians have found what appears to be a Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece that was lost for nearly 500 years.

A team of researchers used miniature cameras and tiny endoscopic probes to peer behind a 16th century battle scene that adorns the walls of the Hall of the Five Hundred in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.

The delicate operation -- the culmination of a 35-year quest by an Italian scientist specialising in art mysteries -- revealed traces of pigment in a cavity.

The probe discovered a unique signature of the Renaissance master -- fragments of black pigment which exactly match the black paint that he used in his most famous work, the Mona Lisa.

"This was a type of paint specifically used by Leonardo and not found in the works of other artists," said Maurizio Seracini, the leader of the team.

He claimed the discovery of the pigment was the first proof that the Leonardo work lies hidden beneath a battle scene later painted by Giorgio Vasari.