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Subject: Fingerprints as an attribution tool

Fingerprints as an attribution tool

From: Tony Sigel <asigel>
Date: Tuesday, April 13, 2004
Anthony D. Ayers <raphaelmad [at] aol__com> writes

>Regrettably there is one proven scientific method that has yet to be
>embraced by the art historical community, that being fingerprint
>analysis. ...

I am forwarding this response from my colleague Nancy Lloyd:

    At the Harvard University Art Museums we conducted a study of
    the fifteen terracotta bozzetti and modelli in our collection
    that are attributed to Gian Lorenzo Bernini  (see Sketches in
    Clay for Projects by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.  Eds. Ivan Gaskell
    and Henry Lie. Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 1999.)
    Part of this study included the analysis of the fingerprints
    found in the clay to determine whether the terracottas were made
    by Bernini or by members of his workshop (or both).

    One difficulty was that the prints were fragmentary, and were
    produced by ten fingers; to get a match we needed the same print
    from the same finger.  To prove a non-match (that more than one
    person modelled the objects) would therefore be more difficult
    as we did not start with a full group of Bernini's ten prints.

    Only those fingerprints from gestures related to the actual clay
    modeling were photographed, with color slide film under raking
    light. A 1 cm metal rod was included in the image for scale.
    Thirty-nine fingerprints were found and photographed altogether,
    including five supplied from two models by the Detroit Institute
    of Art.  More prints were found, but were too fragmentary or
    distorted to be used, or too difficult to photograph because of
    location. The slides were digitized,  opened in Adobe Photoshop
    and cropped, sharpened and the contrast increased. The images
    were then printed full scale and sent to a fingerprint expert.
    One match was found on two terracottas in the Fogg collection,
    the models produced for commissions dated twenty years apart. As
    an aid to other researchers, all of the prints we found were
    published, reproduced at 1.5x.

    Subsequent to this study, Tony Sigel has continued to photograph
    fingerprints during his examinations of Bernini terracottas in
    other collections, and has found a further match to the first
    two matched prints. He performed the print comparison analysis
    himself. These results were presented in the lecture "Bernini
    Terracottas: Technical Analysis, Modeling Technique,
    Authorship", at the conference Earth and Fire: Contributions to
    the Study of Italian Terracotta Sculpture, the Victoria and
    Albert Museum, London, April 2002, and will be published in the

    I believe that there is a fairly long history of examining
    fingerprints, particularly those on works by Durer (Gerhard,
    Holzheu, "Die Daktyloskopie als Mittel zur Identifizierung von
    Kunswerken," Restauro, no. 1 (January 1989): 40-42) and Da
    Vinci. I have seen references for analysis done on Linear-B
    tablets, as well. As for Raphael, hand prints/ fingerprints were
    photographed (but not analyzed) on School of Athens during its

    Nancy Lloyd

Tony Sigel
Associate Conservator of Objects and Sculpture
Straus Center for Conservation
Harvard University Art Museums
32 Quincy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
Fax: 495-0322

                  Conservation DistList Instance 17:66
                 Distributed: Thursday, April 15, 2004
                       Message Id: cdl-17-66-001
Received on Tuesday, 13 April, 2004

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