Proof re da Vinci painting
Sophie Arie, Guardian News Service, Rome
Art historians had always detected the style of Leonardo da Vinci in the mysterious painting Adoration of the Christ Child, which is regarded as a gem of the Renaissance.
But there was never any proof. Now, a fingerprint discovered in the original paint may finally solve the puzzle.
Experts at Rome's Galleria Borghese, where the painting, widely known as the Tondo (Round), is housed, discovered the print after removing layers of varnish from the 500-year-old circular painting during restoration work last year.
"It didn't exactly jump out at first. I wouldn't have found it if I hadn't been using my microscope," said a restorer, Elizabetta Zatti. "But when I had cleaned down to the original paint, I noticed a slightly yellow patch in the top left part of the sky, right near the edge."
Given that Leonardo is known to have deliberately left fingerprints hidden in some of his works as a kind of signature, the discovery has raised hopes that this one-metre wide painting of Joseph and the Virgin Mary gazing down at the infant Jesus, may also be his. "Its clearly a fingerprint left while the paint was still wet," said Zatti. "But we still don't really know whose finger it belongs to."
To identify the fingerprint, the Galleria Borghese will send enlarged photos to Poland in March for comparison with a print Leonardo left on his Lady with an Ermine, which is kept at the Czartoryskich Museum in Krakow.
Zatti's year-long restoration involved removing layers of varnish that had dulled the colors and concealed some of the details of the original painting.
The clean-up revealed much of Leonardo's style, particularly the use of chiaroscuro, and the "sfumato" technique which softens outlines of figures. Other hidden details of the painting were uncovered in the restoration, including typically Leonardesque symbolism such as wild primrose, which represents resurrection, and the blue veronica flower, symbol of the eyes of the Virgin Mary.
Art historians will be wary of jumping to conclusions until extensive research has been carried out on the fingerprint.
Alessandro Vezzosi, the director of a museum dedicated to Leonardo near Florence, said: "If that is his fingerprint, it means at least that he has worked on that painting."
Since the work first appeared in the records of the collection of the Borghese family in the 1790s, it has been attributed to various Renaissance artists including Raphael, Ghirlandaio and Lorenzo di Credi. In 1926 a renowned art critic, Roberto Longhi, attributed it to the Florentine artist Fra Bartolomeo.