London, February 7 : Forensic scientists say that Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, a mystical and mercurial philosopher at the court of Lorenzo de' Medici, was poisoned with arsenic.
The suggestion coming from a team of researchers at the universities of Bologna, Pisa and Lecce is significant, given that Pico's demise has been one of Italy's most enduring murder mysteries for 500 years.
Ever since Pico suddenly became sick and died in 1494, it has been rumoured that foul play was involved. He died aged 31, two years after Lorenzo, together with a man who might have been his lover, Antonio Ambrosini.
The research team exhumed the two corpses last July, and subjected them to a battery of tests.
Using biomolecular technology and scanning equipment along with DNA analysis, they found a toxic quantity of arsenic in their bones. They also found high levels of mercury and lead.
Silvano Vinceti, the head of the national cultural committee that managed the exhumation, said that the killers came from Pico's closest circle. The forensic scientist believes that it was Lorenzo's son Piero de' Medici who ordered Pico's death.
According to him, Pico's close friendship with Girolamo Savonarola, the fanatical Dominican friar who repeatedly preached against the Medicis, appears to have earned him the enmity of Piero.
"Combining the results of our analysis with historical documents that have recently come to light, it seems Piero is the most likely culprit for the assassination order," the Telegraph quoted Vinceti as saying.
He, however, added: "It was probably Cristoforo da Calamaggiore, Pico's secretary, who administered the poison. In fact, da Calamaggiore admitted later that he had given him medicine because he was sick."
Vinceti has also revealed that the examination of Pico's remains, which have been reburied in St Mark's Church, suggest that he was well over six feet tall and burly, in direct contradiction to his portraits. He also had a much larger skull than average.
Ambrosini, on the other hand, was only five feet tall, said the researcher.