Very interesting! -- J.
Leonardo Da Vinci may have been an Arab, according to scientists who have studied a single, complete fingerprint found on one of his paintings.
The print, taken from the artist's left index finger, was discovered after an exhaustive three-year trawl through his works by researchers at the University of Chieti.
Professor Luigi Capasso, an anthropologist who led the team, said the central whorl of the fingerprint was a common pattern in the Middle East.
"Around 60 per cent of the Middle Eastern population have the same structure," he said.
The revelation will give weight to the increasingly popular academic theory that Da Vinci's mother, Caterina, was a slave who came to Tuscany from Istanbul.
Alessandro Vezzosi, an expert on the Renaissance genius and the director of the museum in his hometown of Vinci, said: "We have documents that suggest she was Oriental, at least from the Mediterranean area.
"She was not a peasant of Vinci. Furthermore, her name was Caterina, which was very common among slaves in Tuscany at the time."
Almost nothing is left of Da Vinci, or his family.
After his death in 1519, his remains were dispersed in a series of religious wars.
The discovery of the fingerprint came after three years of scrutinising 52 manuscripts and paintings attributed to the artist.
Using the latest spectral scanning technology, the team found more than 200 prints, but only one perfect specimen, on a painting called "Portrait of a Lady with an Ermine".
Da Vinci used his finger to smudge the necklace's shadow in the painting, which is from the Czartoryski museum in the Polish city of Krakow.
Not all the traces in the various documents were left by Da Vinci.
Many of them belonged to his apprentices, or to people who handled the manuscripts, said Prof Capasso.
The left-handed Da Vinci often ate while he worked, so some of the grubby marks are food-based, and research is currently being carried out into what sort of diet the artist had.
The fingerprint is also being used to identify two paintings, which may rocket in value to up to £70 million each if they are found to be genuine.
"We are pleased that the fingerprint can be used to authenticate unknown works, or those we are unsure were carried out by the great genius," said Prof Capasso.
A team of forensic policemen from Rome has examined La Madone de Laroque and Saint Catherine of Alexandria for fingerprints that may match the new Da Vinci print.
The paintings are on show at the History of Biomedicine Museum at Chieti University.
The picture of the madonna was bought in a French street market for £142 and has been thought until now, together with the St Catherine, to be the work of Giampietrino, one of Da Vinci's pupils.
However, studies on the paintings show that the tip of the artist's fingers were used to smudge a soft-focus effect, one of Da Vinci's trademark techniques.
Colonel Gianfranco de Fulvio, an Italian police forensic expert, said his team had taken several photographs of the surface of the two paintings and were busy checking to find a match.
"I'm used to working on fingerprints left by the Mafia, but the skill is similar. We are pretty confident about settling the matter," he said.