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Lost Treasures That Have Never Been Found

Written by Kevin Jennings

The world is supposedly home to a myriad of treasures that have disappeared over time. The Ark of the Covenant, the lost city of Atlantis, and Bigfoot’s island villa, to name a few. While many of the treasures that humanity has spent centuries searching for may never have even existed, today we’ll be looking at some very real items that the world has not seen for decades, or even centuries.

The Battle of Anghiari

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            In 1504, Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned to paint a mural in the Hall of Five Hundred, a room inside the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy. The painting was to depict the 1440 Battle of Anghiari, and was to feature four men riding war horses and battling for possession of a standard, a heraldic flag usually featuring a coat of arms. Many of Leonardo’s preparatory studies, the fancy artist way of saying “concept art sketches”, still exist as do contemporary recreations of the mural by other artists who visited the Hall of Five Hundred. Leonardo never finished his painting, but the centerpiece featuring the men on their horses was admired by visitors to the hall for decades.

            In 1563, the hall was remodeled by painter and architect Giorgio Vasari. The room was to be enlarged and restructured so that the Duke could hold court in the hall, surrounded by vast murals depicting important Florentine military victories. The new room would feature exclusively work by Vasari himself, as both Leonardo and Michelangelo had not finished their murals. Michelangelo had only done the preparatory studies before being called to another project by the Pope, but Leonardo had already finished enough of his painting to draw spectators to see it. Vasari could not simply destroy this mural and needed to preserve it out of respect for Leonardo, but it has never been seen since.

            In March of 2012, diagnostician of Italian art Maurizio Seracini believed he found the answer. He announced they found evidence that Leonardo’s work was preserved in the very room it was meant to be displayed, and that there was a hidden wall behind one of Vasari’s paintings. The search was discontinued in September of that year, and to this day no progress has been made since the initial announcement in 2012. If the Battle of Anghiari has survived these past 500 years, it may have been under our noses all along. The reasons for the search being called off are unclear, but Seracini is still confident the long lost mural is hidden behind Vasari’s work. If found, this moral would likely be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Portrait of a Young Man

http://By Mrblackmanelakash – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=110800535

            In keeping with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme, “Portrait of a Young Man” was a painting by famous Italian painter Raphael Sanzio, though it is unknown exactly who the young man in the portrait was. For years Raphael’s painting hung in the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow, Poland. While patrons of the museum thought it was the perfect place for “Portrait of a Young Man” to call its home, Nazi Germany disagreed. When Germany invaded Poland in September of 1939, the painting was stolen. The plan was to hang the painting in the Führermuseum in Linz, but the museum was never built.

            The painting hung in the chalet of Hans Frank on Lake Schliersee in Germany until January of 1945. Frank was a Nazi official who oversaw many war crimes. After World War II ended, Frank was tried and executed for his crimes, but the location of Raphael’s painting has remained unknown since then. “Portrait of a Young Man” has an estimated value of $100 million.

            With “Portrait of a Young Man” being just one of over 500,000 pieces of art stolen from Poland by the Nazis, it would be easy to fill this entire list with just lost pieces of art or treasures that were lost after being stolen by the Nazis, but let’s switch things up a bit.

The Romanovs’ Fabergé Eggs

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            Czar Alexander III began the Romanovs’ extravagant Easter tradition in 1885. Alexander turned to master goldsmith Peter Carl Fabergé to construct a marvelous Easter egg for his wife, Maria Feodorovna. Per Alexander’s specifications, the egg would have an unassuming white shell that would twist open. Inside, the egg would be coated with gold and would contain a small golden hen. Inside the hen was hidden a tiny diamond crown, and in the crown was an even tinier ruby pendant. The first few eggs were made to Alexander’s specifications, but then Fabergé was given free rein to design as he saw fit. By the time Alexander succumbed to his fatal kidney disease, ten of these Easter eggs would have been created.

            When Nicholas II took over as czar after his father’s death, he continued the Easter egg tradition. Each year he would present one to his mother Maria, and one to his wife Alexandra. One such egg was named the Imperial Coronation Egg. It was a golden egg adorned with two-headed eagles made from black enamel. The egg had a velvet interior, and contained a miniature replica of a coach owned by Catherine the Great, the same coach that Nicholas and Alexandra rode in for their 1896 coronation procession. While still being the pinnacle of excess, these eggs were all deeply personal and sentimental, as well as being one of a kind. In total, 50 Fabergé eggs were created for the Romanovs’ Easter tradition.

            Like his father, Nicholas faced an untimely death. Rather than kidney disease, for Nicholas it was death at the hands of the proletariat following the Russian revolution against the Romanov dynasty. Lenin had the imperial eggs packed up and transported to the Kremlin, but when Russia fell on hard times in the 1920s and 1930s, they began being sold to international buyers to make a quick buck. In 2010, one of these Fabergé eggs was found at an antiques stall somewhere in America by a scrap-metal dealer. He paid $13,000, hoping to flip it to someone who would melt it down for parts. After no one would buy it because they thought it was overpriced, the true nature of the egg was discovered along with its estimated value of roughly $33 million.

            Of the fifty imperial Fabergé eggs that were created, the locations of eight remain unknown. Who knows, they may be for sale at your local flea market.

George Mallory’s Lost Camera

https://flic.kr/p/tQ4qLp

            This one isn’t exactly a monetary treasure the way the others would be, but it is still a priceless piece of history. When George Mallory was asked in an interview why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, he famously replied, “Because it’s there.” Mallory had already made two attempts to climb to the peak of the mountain, and on the second attempt he and his team achieved a record altitude of 26,980 feet, falling 2,050 feet short of the peak.

            In 1924, Mallory set out to make his final attempt to climb the mountain, along with his climbing partner Andrew Irvine. When the pair was last spotted they were only 800 feet from the top of Everest. Did the dynamic duo manage to ascend heights otherwise unknown to mankind? No one actually knows. Edmund Hillary was credited as the first man to successfully climb Mount Everest in 1953, almost 30 years later, but that may not be true. For 75 years, no one knew what happened to Mallory and Irvine. It was naturally assumed they died, as hundreds of others have in trying to scale Everest, but it wasn’t until 1999 that Mallory’s body was finally found.

            Mallory’s cause of death was a large puncture wound in his head, most likely from his ice axe taking a bad bounce off a rock and fatally striking him, causing him to fall off the mountain. Irvine would have fallen as a result as it appeared the two were roped together, a common safety practice among mountaineers. Irvine’s body was not found, but there were two other missing articles as well.

            George Mallory’s daughter said that he always took a picture of his wife with him when he attempted to climb Everest so that he could leave her photo at the top of the mountain. When his body, mummified by the elements, was found, there was no photo. His body, clothing, and even documents in his wallet were immaculately preserved which leads many to believe that Mallory and Irvine had succeeded in reaching the summit and the accident occurred during their return trip. Mallory’s unbroken snow-goggles were also in his pocket, not on his head, indicating that it was dark out at the time the accident occurred. Given their known departure time, for it to have already been dark enough to remove his goggles Mallory and Irvine must have at least attempted the final 800 foot push. Had they not succeeded, it would have been a remarkably lengthy attempt.

            The other missing item was George Mallory’s camera. It is believed that the camera must be in Irvine’s pocket, and should his body be found and the film in the camera preserved, this priceless artifact has the potential to rewrite 20th century history.

Sappho’s Lost Poems

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            You’re probably familiar with this guy named William Shakespeare. He is one of the most prolific writers of the English language. Sappho was the Shakespeare of the ancient world, one of the most celebrated and studied poets. She was given nicknames such as “The Tenth Muse” and “The Poetess”. Sappho was born circa 630 BC on the island of Lesbos. If you just let out a juvenile chuckle, she’s the reason why, but more on that later.

            Sapphro was most famous for her lyric poetry, designed to be performed with music. In the 5th century BC, Athenian publishers began to produce copies of her poems. By the second or third century AD, Alexandrian scholars created a critical edition of Sapphos poetry. It was a complete compilation of all of her known works, and was at least eight volumes long, though some speculate there was a ninth volume. Even after this definitive edition was created, her poetry continued to appear in other poetry compilations as well. She was one of the most influential and important poets to have ever lived, so naturally it was important to preserve and reproduce her work. 

            Of the approximately 10,000 lines of poetry that Sappho is believed to have written, and that were widely reproduced, only about 650 lines exist to this day. So little of her work remains that the extant pieces go by names such as “Fragment 2” or “Fragment 31”. There is only one of her poems that is known to be complete, her “Ode to Aphrodite”. Some translations tried to heterosexualise her writings, and the 1711 translation of “Ode to Aphrodite” tried to switch the object of Sappho’s desires to a male. Still, she was so prolific and influential as an author with homoerotic themes than the English word “Sapphic” is derived from her name, and the word “lesbian” is derived from her home of Lesbos.

            It seems inconceivable that all of the work of such a famous and reproduced poet could vanish from the face of the Earth. Sappho’s portrayal in the New Comedy, a satire of contemporary Athenian society written three centuries after her death, was as a licentious homosexual, and this exaggerated representation of her stuck so firmly in people’s minds that Pope Gregory ordered all her work to be systematically burned in 1073.

            While not much is currently known to exist, the remainder of Sappho’s works could still be out there. The most recent fragments were released in 2014, many of them being found in Egypt. Each new fragment of her work is a priceless piece of literary history.

The Honjō Masamune

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            If you’re familiar with any Japanese games or cartoons that involve swords, you’ve probably heard the name Masamune before. Gorō Nyūdō Masamune is widely regarded as the greatest swordsmith to ever live. The exact dates for his birth and death are unknown, but it is agreed that he made swords between 1288 and 1328. The name for this particular sword comes from General Honjō Shigenaga, one of the previous owners of the sword. In a battle in 1561, Shigenaga survived an attack from the Honjō Masamune after it split his helmet. He took the sword as his prize as the end of the battle.

The sword would continue to change hands over the next hundred years when it finally became the possession of Tokugawa Ietsuna, the fourth shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty. It was passed down from generation to generation, even after the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1868. The Honjō Masamune was considered one of the finest Japanese swords ever made, and in 1939 it was made a Japanese National Treasure. The final known owner of the Honjō Masamune was Tokugawa Iemasa, a member of the House of Peers in Japan’s legislature.

Following World War II, Japan was occupied by the United States and forced to sign a treaty by General Douglas MacArthur that prohibited them from having a military. In exchange, the United States would install scores of military bases in Japan and pledge to protect the nation in the event of foreign aggression. Under American occupation, all swords were required to be surrendered to the Foreign Liquidation Commission, out of fear that the Japanese might turn their swords on the occupying Americans.

Wanting to set an example for the rest of the nation, Iemasa turned over the Honjō Masamune along with 13 other “prized heirloom” swords to a police station in Mejiro in December of 1945. In January, the swords were given to a man recorded as identifying himself as Sergeant Coldy Bimore, but as the Japanese don’t use the Roman alphabet, this is likely a poor attempt at a phonetic spelling of how the man identified himself. The United States has no record of a Sgt. Coldy Bimore having received the swords.

The Honjō Masamune has not been seen since that day in December. There are absolutely no leads to go on, so only vague theories about its whereabouts exist. It could still be somewhere in Japan, having been taken by a member of the Japanese police who had access to it and did not want to give up a national treasure to the occupying Americans. It could have been destroyed by American soldiers, something that would seem implausible if only the Americans could tell this sword apart from any of the countless others that were collected at the police station over the course of a month. The sword could also be somewhere in the United States, which means there’s the chance it could resurface.

Masamune swords are the finest in the world, and while few still exist, when they are sold they typically sell for over $1 million. With the Honjō Masamune being the finest of the fine, and being both a national treasure and a symbol of the Tokugawa dynasty, it would undoubtedly fetch the highest price of them all.

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