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Experts Reconstruct Leonardo Fingerprint

Alessandro Vezzosi, a Leonardo expert 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.

Vezzosi, who manages the archive of documents 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, and we have no certain elements about her," he said.

The experts say some of the fingerprints left on the manuscripts might belong to the people who handled them over time. However, those caused by attempts to remove ink blots were surely left by the author, Capasso said.

Biological information on Leonardo is largely incomplete. The artist, who was generally but not exclusively left-handed, used his fingers to paint, and his thumb print recurs on the manuscripts, Vezzosi said.

Leonardo sometimes worked while eating or traveling, and his fingers were often dirty, sometimes with residue of food, Vezzosi said.

Carlo Vecce, a professor of Italian literature at Naples' University and a leading Leonardo expert, said the research, in which he was not involved, appears to be "founded."

"The research on Leonardo's fingerprints is very interesting. It's always good to locate and distinguish these details both on the paintings and on the drawings," he said. "The fingerprints can tell us if Leonardo was there or if he intervened (on a painting), it's a hint." Vecce noted, though, that a fingerprint is not enough proof to attribute a work with certainty, and such a discovery does not necessarily add much to what is known about the artist.

"It give us the illusion of a contact with the genius," he said. "But the most important things about Leonardo are those that concern his intellectual activity, those that we get by reading his words or interpreting what he wrote."

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© 2006 The Associated Press