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27/04/2008

Leonardo da Vinci's Mother a Slave and of Arab Descent?

On Leonardo's 556th birthday, 12. April 2008, the following article appeared in "The Guardian", an English newspaper: "Da Vinci's mother was a slave, Italian study claims", in which two claims were put forward: 1. according to Francesco Cianchi Leonardo da Vinci's mother was a slave, and 2. according to another Italian academic a fingerprint of the famous painter would show a configuration which can only be found in Arabs.

As a historian I can`t agree with the first claim. If Leonardo da Vinci was a son by a slave, he would never have been accepted as a grandchild by his grandfather Antonio da Vinci. Leonardo da Vinci's mother came from a prosperous family. Her father was probably a lawyer. But she was not a Florentine lady, therefore Ser Piero da Vinci did not want to marry her.

As a biologist I had difficulties with the second claim from the beginning. I believe it to be impossible to find out the race of a person from his or her fingerprint. Furthermore this article does not state, on which painting Leonardo da Vinci's print was found. Was this painting produced by him, and if yes, by him alone or in collaboration with one or more of his students, assistants or colleagues? To be brief: can we be certain, that this fingerprint is from the great master at all? Since I finished my biology studies 23 years ago and I am perhaps not familiar with the latest developments in genetic research, I asked a specialist for fingerprints, Brevet Sergeant John Clements from the South Australia Police, whether it is possible to infer from a fingerprint the Arab descent of Leonardo da Vinci. I would like to share his response with all my readers here:

Maike,

In response to your query regarding the pattern type of Leonardo Da Vinci as being of a type normally found only amongst Arabs.

To my knowledge no pattern type exists that can be designated as belonging to a particular racial group. Certain (pure) racial types may have a greater trend towards certain pattern typing than other races, example, Caucasian - loops, Negroes (continental Africa) – whorls, Asians – arches, but this is only as a generalization as Pygmies and Bushmen (continental Africa) have as high a rate of arch type patterns as whorl. Also, there is no real dominance as to pattern typing with the mix of racial types.

Pattern type is formed from the shape and progression of growth of the volar pads during foetal development, although this will have influence from genetics there are also many other factors that can influence pattern typing of an individual.

If you wish to read more on racial variation of fingerprint patterns I would suggest to you "Finger Prints Palms And Soles an Introduction to Dermatoglyphics" by Harold Cummins and Charles Midlo.

So in short a single fingerprint would not tell you if a person were an Arab or of Arabic ancestry.

I trust this is of some assistance.

Brevet Sergeant John Clements
Training Coordinator Fingerprint Bureau
Forensic Services Branch (144)
South Australia Police
Forensic Science Centre, Divett Place
ADELAIDE SA 5000
www.police.sa.gov.au
SOUTH AUSTRALIA POLICE

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