Was Leonardo da Vinci's mother of Arabic origin?
Anthropologists said they have pieced together Leonardo da Vinci's left index fingerprint -- a discovery that could help provide information on such matters as the food the artist ate and whether his mother was of Arabic origin.
The reconstruction of the fingerprint was the result of three years of research and could help attribute disputed paintings or manuscripts, said Luigi Capasso, an anthropologist and director of the Anthropology Research Institute at Chieti University in central Italy.
"It adds the first touch of humanity. We knew how Leonardo saw the world and the future ... but who was he? This biological information is about his being human, not being a genius," Mr. Capasso said in a recent telephone interview.
The research was based on a first core of photographs of about 200 fingerprints -- most of them partial -- taken from about 52 papers handled by Leonardo.
Mr. Capasso's work, presented in 2005 in a specialized magazine called Anthropologie, published in the Czech Republic, is on display in an exhibition in the town of Chieti through March 30.
The artist often ate while working, and Mr. Capasso and other specialists said his fingerprints could include traces of saliva, blood or the food he ate. It is information that could help clear up questions about his origins.
Certain distinctive features are more common in the fingerprints of some ethnic populations, specialists say.
"The one we found in this finger tip applies to 60 percent of the Arabic population, which suggests the possibility that his mother was of Middle Eastern origin," Mr. Capasso said.
Other specialists, however, say that determining ethnicity based on fingerprints is vague.
What the science says, "generally speaking, is that if your parent has a lot of arches, you'll probably have a lot of arches," said Simon Cole, associate professor of criminology, law and society at the University of California at Irvine.
"The science essentially comes up with breakdowns: x percent of Asians have arches, x have whorls, x have loops. Some races have very low incidences of some patterns and very high incidences of others."
But "you can't predict one person's race from these kinds of incidences," he said, especially if you're looking at only one finger.
The idea that Leonardo's mother could have been a slave who came to Tuscany from Constantinople -- now Istanbul -- is not new and has been the object of other research.
Alessandro Vezzosi, a Leonardo specialist and the director of a museum dedicated to the artist in his hometown of Vinci, said there are documents that appear to back this up.
"This coincides with documented indications that she was Oriental, at least from the Mediterranean area, not a peasant of Vinci," he said.
Mr. Vezzosi, who manages the archive of documents Mr. Capasso used for his study, warned that her origin cannot be determined with any certainty until a contract documenting her sale is found.
"Still, her name was Caterina, the most common name among slaves in Tuscany," he said.
Italy: was Leonardo da Vinci’s mother Arab?