The Italian Almanac

The Adoration of the Christ Child

Italian Art - February 20

A fingerprint and stylistic touches uncovered during restoration of a Renaissance masterpiece raises the possibility that it may have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci, who sometimes left his mark on works as a kind of signature. "The Adoration of the Christ Child" in Rome's Galleria Borghese has for decades been attributed to Fra Bartolomeo, but scholars have never been confident of the authorship.

Photos of the "Adoration", believed to have been painted in the late 15th century or early 16th century, will be flown March 1 to Krakow, Poland, to compare its fingerprint with the one on the Leonardo masterpiece "Lady with an Ermine".

The restoration uncovered hitherto hidden details of the painting. They include Leonardo's typical symbolism such as wild primrose, which represents resurrection, and the blue veronica flower, symbol of the eyes of the Virgin Mary. Perhaps most strikingly, the restoration work revealed that the Virgin Mary had the large and somewhat masculine hands that are a hallmark of many female figures in his work.

Alessandro Vezzosi, the director of a museum dedicated to Leonardo near Florence who was not involved in the restoration, said the discovery of the fingerprint was interesting, but cautioned that more research is needed to give a definite attribution. "Fingerprints are very useful, and Leonardo's paintings and manuscripts are full of them," Vezzosi said. "If that is his fingerprint, it means at least that he has worked on that painting."