Leonardo DaVinci may have been Arab

Dama1This story is very cool, not because Leonardo might have had Arab blood, but because of the fantastically meticulous research that has gone into it. Going through over 200 partial fingerprint samples from DaVinci's paintings, finally finding the most complete one in 'Portrait of a Lady with an Ermine' (pictured on the right) and matching with other ones from manuscript.

In the case of Leonardo's fingertip, patterns and ridges pointed to the Middle East, the researchers concluded.

"The fingerprint features patterns such as the central whorl that are dominant in the Middle East. About 60 percent of the Middle Eastern population display the same dermatoglyphic structure found in the fingerprint," Capasso said.

The discovery would support Vezzosi's claim that Leonardo's mother was not a local peasant girl as previously thought, but a Middle Eastern slave.

According to Vezzosi, records unearthed in Vinci offer substantial evidence that Leonardo's father, a craftsman called Ser Piero Da Vinci, owned a Middle-Eastern female slave named Caterina.

"It was common in 15th century Tuscany to own slaves from the Middle East," said Vezzosi.

Indeed, in 1452, the same year of Leonardo's birth, a law was passed in Florence that gave slave owners greater rights over their slaves.

Shortly after the law was passed, Ser Piero married Caterina off to one of his workers. The woman had just given birth to a boy called Leonardo.
Droit de seigneur?

[Thanks to Hisham for the link.]
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.