This inscription and its anagram CATROVACER play a very important role in Dan Brown’s Inferno.
The words “cerca trova,” however, are not as mysterious as believed: in fact, in the 1960s, some art historians discovered their origin.
The battle of Marciano, also known as the battle of Scannagallo, was a very important battle fought by the troops of the Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici against the city of Siena, near Marciano in Val di Chiana.
The battle was decisive in defeating Siena and achieving supremacy over all of Tuscany.
The conflict was also important for the Duke Cosimo because the troops of Siena were led by Piero Strozzi, a Florentine nobleman, who was his archenemy.
Other Florentine troops, consisting of supporters of the Florentine Republic as well as enemies of Cosimo I in general, joined Piero Strozzi.
The battle of Marciano was also fought among Florentines to achieve the supremacy over Florence. So when we say “Siena soldiers,” we mean the troops defending Siena, which included Florentine soldiers.
Siena soldiers wore different green flags, some of them donated by the king of France, who supported them.
Dante’s verses were embroidered on a number of these green flags:
He goes in search of freedom, which is so dear,
As he who gives his life for it would know.
(Purgatorio, Canto I, 71–72)
By these verses, Siena troops wanted to express that they were fighting to defend their own freedom.
But those Siena soldiers, looking for freedom, instead found the defeat.
This is the sarcastic message that Cosimo I wanted to express by asking Giorgio Vasari to paint the words “cerca trova” on a green flag in place of Dante’s verses.
Anyway, seek and ye shall find . . . something!
Danteworlds: A Reader’s Guide to the Inferno by Guy P. Raffa, A geographic journey through Dante’s underworld circle by circle