A forgotten workshop of Leonardo da Vinci, complete with 500-year-old frescos and a secret room to dissect human cadavers, has been discovered in Florence, Italy, researchers say.

The find, announced on Tuesday, was made in part of the Santissima Annunziata convent, which let out rooms to artists centuries ago and where the likely muse of the Renaissance artist’s masterwork, the Mona Lisa, may have worshipped.

“It’s a bit absurd to think that, in 2005, we have found the studio of one of history’s greatest artists. But that is what has happened,” said Roberto Manescalchi, one of three researchers credited for this month’s discovery.

“The proof is on the walls.”

Frescos adorning part of the workshop were left undisturbed over the centuries and gradually forgotten. The wing of the convent was eventually split by a wall and is partially claimed today by the Institute of Military Geography.

In a slide-show presentation to media, Manescalchi pointed to one colourful fresco with a character conspicuously missing from the foreground.

The white silhouette bore a striking resemblance to da Vinci’s painting of the archangel Gabriel, who appears in his “Annunciation” hanging in Florence’s Uffizi gallery.

Manescalchi, who refers to the silhouette as “The Ghost”, told reporters it was not clear to him whether the angel was removed or perhaps never completed.

The walls were also adorned with paintings of birds, one of which strongly resembled a sketch from da Vinci’s “Atlantic Codex”, a 1,286-page collection of drawings and writings by the painter, sculptor, inventor and scientist.

Another painting was similar to a drawing in da Vinci’s codex on the flight of birds.

Manescalchi speculated that da Vinci had assistants in his workshop and probably used a “secret” corner room for his dissections of human corpses, aimed at improving his understanding of anatomy.

While some experts have cautioned that it is still too early to say Manescalchi has found da Vinci’s studio, the researcher, who made the discovery earlier this month, was convinced further research would back up his claims.

“It’s easy to say ‘It’s not true’,” he said.

“I didn’t paint the Angel’s ghost.”

The find has sparked speculation that while da Vinci was using the workshop, he might have met the probable model for the Mona Lisa, Lisa Gherardini, wife of a Florentine merchant whose family had a chapel in the Santissima Annunziata.

Da Vinci is thought to have painted the Mona Lisa after he presumably left the convent, but Manescalchi said he was reviewing documents for evidence that the two met during his stay there from 1501 to 1502.

“We are researching,” he said, adding that thousands of da Vinci’s papers were still missing.

“This is still a fresh discovery.”

More here.