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Electronic Imaging & Signal Processing

Fingerprint confirms newly discovered Da Vinci drawing

15 October 2009

The art world is abuzz with the recent discovery that a portrait thought to be the drawing of an unknown 19th century German artist is now being attributed to the Italian master Leonardo da Vinci. Researchers traced the portrait to the artist through optics using multispectral infrared scanning of a 500-year-old fingerprint.

The 13-by-9-inch portrait, dubbed La Bella Principessa, is a delicate profile of a young aristocratic Milanese woman, drawn with pen, chalk and ink on vellum. It was bought two years ago by an anonymous Swiss collector at the Ganz Gallery in New York for about $19,000. Experts now put the possible value of the artwork at upwards of $150 million.

The potential fingerprint wasn't a total surprise to everyone, though. Alessandro Vezzosi, a noted da Vinci scholar, stuck out his academic neck last year when he identified the portrait as one of the artist's in his 2008 book, Leonardo Infinito. He based his conclusion on artistic, stylistic, and historic considerations.

Together with Canadian-born art collector Peter Silverman, who bought the work on his behalf from the Ganz, the owner consulted top art experts who began to accumulate clues that might link the portrait to da Vinci.

Then one of the experts, Montreal-based art-forensics specialist Peter Paul Biro, discovered the print of an index finger on the top left corner of the drawing using state-of-the-art multispectral infrared technology, according to a report in the Antiques Trade Gazette.

Biro examined multispectral images of the drawing taken by the Lumiere Technology laboratory in Paris, which used a special digital scanner to show successive layers of the work.

Biro says the print was "highly comparable" to another fingerprint found on da Vinci's St. Jerome painting in the Vatican. Carbon dating of the drawing also linked it to da Vinci's period, according to the experts. "The fingerprint is simply a confirmation of what we believed to be true," Vezzosi says.