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Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci - Description and Information

30 March 2022
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Lady with an Ermine - Leonardo da Vinci. Oil on wood. 54 x 40 cm. 1489 - 1490


There are different versions circulating among art historians, as of when the Leonardo da Vinci's portrait titled "Lady with an Ermine" was created, as well as who was woman posing for him.

One of the versions implies that the portrait was created in 1489-90 and that it depicts a seventeen-year-old mistress of Duke Lodovico Sforza named Cecilia Gallerani, even though there is no direct evidence.

We can only make judgment about the identity of the depicted lady based on the indirect sources, for instance, their personal acquaintance, a draft letter which Leonardo addressed to Cecilia, as well as portrait being mentioned in the letter from Gallerani herself to Isabella d'Este.

The careful examination of the canvas revealed that numerous details were changed, and several layers of paints were applied.

Originally, the background was not that dark, and the vaulted window framing the model’s head was subsequently painted over. The hand and the veil on the head presented initially, were redrawn among other things, most probably in the course of the numerous restorations. Nevertheless, the traces of the painting techniques applied by Leonardo were found, confirming his authorship.

The peculiar half-turned pose of the model became Leonardo’s innovative discovery. Supposedly, owing to such a ruse, the artist attempted to hide the fact of Cecilia being pregnant. In the meantime, this technique added the amazing liveliness to the portrait: the figure in a frame is not static and frozen, but it is a beautiful young lady, with a moment of her life captured by the artist. It seems that she just sat down for a second, being about to run away following something that distracted her attention.

The animal that Cecilia is holding is supposed to be an ermine, although there is no agreement on this subject because of the inaccuracies present on its image. However, there is a tendency among art historians to believe that contains reference to Duke Sforza encrypted (he joined the Order of the Ermine in 1488, including it in his own blazon) and Gallerani (since the Greek for the ermine is “gale”).
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