The Italian Almanac

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Just an Old Fingerprint

A fingerprint of Leonardo da Vinci has been found on a previously obscure work attributed to an early 19th-century German school. Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of History of Art at Oxford, has redubbed the picture, sold at Christie's in New York in 1998 for $19,000 dollars, as La Bella Principessa and claims she is Bianca Sforza, the illegitimate daughter of Leonardo's long-time patron, Milan Duke Ludovico Sforza.

He has described the girl's profile as ''subtle to an inexpressible degree'' and clearly the work of the master. A Paris laboratory found the fingerprint in the top left of the picture and said it was ''highly comparable'' to one found on Da Vinci's youthful work St Jerome in the Vatican. If accepted, the new attribution would mean the painting, now owned by Canadian-born and Europe-based connoisseur Peter Silverman, is the first Leonardo to turn up in more than a century.

It would be worth more than 100 million pounds ($160 million) - or 500 times what New York dealer Kate Ganz paid for it in 1998.