An artwork becomes an extension of an artist and experiencing a work in person can feel as though you’re in their company even if the artist has been dead for centuries. Examining the brushstrokes laid out by an artist or seeing the materials brought together to create a work allows for a connection between viewer, artist, and subject matter. Sometimes, it can be overwhelming simply knowing that what you stand before was handled by the artist as they worked.
Now, imagine being able to see a physical trace of the artist outside of their pen strokes or signature. This is exactly what viewers will have the opportunity to see when visiting a work by Leonardo da Vinci that belongs to Britain’s Royal Collection. A thumbprint has been found on one of Leonardo’s medical drawings – one of around 550 drawings by the artist in the Queen’s collection. Alan Donnithorne, former paper conservator for the Royal Collection, found the reddish-brown fingerprint was made by in the same ink as the drawing so it is likely that while working, the Old Master ‘picked up the sheet with ink fingers.’ The print is from da Vinci’s left thumb, he was also famously left-handed, and another smudge, presumably from his left index finger, can be found on the reverse of the drawing.
The drawing depicts a detailed anatomical view of a female and goes by the title The cardiovascular system and principal organs of a woman (c. 1509-1510). The fingerprint is found near the end of the truncated arm to the far left of the drawing, just at the edge of the paper. While this isn’t the first fingerprint thought to have come from the artist to be found, Donnithorne has described the print as ‘the most convincing candidate for an authentic Leonardo fingerprint.’
Leonardo’s drawing and fingerprint has just gone on display at the National Museum of Cardiff where it will remain on view through May 6th. The medical drawing will then travel back to London to be displayed at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace between May 24th and October 13th. The finding and more details on the fingerprint are given by Donnithorne in is recently published book, Leonardo da Vinci: A Closer Look. Donnithorne’s book coincides with a series of displays of works by the artist, who is receiving a lot of attention this year around the globe in celebration of the 500th anniversary of his death. ‘Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing’ will offer 12 exhibitions of Leonardo’s drawings from the Royal Collection simultaneously at 12 venues across the UK – Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Derby, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Southampton and Sunderland. In total, 144 loans will be shown during the massive series. This series will be followed up by an exhibition of 200 drawings by Leonardo at the Queen’s Gallery before ending the year with a smaller show at the Queen’s Gallery in Edinburgh.
If you’d like to see the thumbprint more closely but you won’t make it to see The cardiovascular system and principal organs of a woman in person, a high-quality image is available here.