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Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci

Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci

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Leonardo Da Vinci 'painted three Ermine portraits'

Engineer Pascal Cotte has spent three years using reflective light technology to analyse The Lady with an Ermine.

Until now, it was thought the 500-year-old painting had always included the ceremonial animal.

Mr Cotte has shown the artist painted one portrait without the ermine and two with different versions of the fur.

Leonardo experts have described the new findings as "thrilling" and said the discovery raises new questions about the painting's history.

The Lady with an Ermine is a portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, a young woman in the Milanese court who was mistress to Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s "Lady with an Ermine"

Looking at the face of Leonardo da Vinci's "Lady with an Ermine" masterpiece provokes a question of what occupies the mind of the portrayed woman, so similar to the case of "Mona Lisa". See the rare 15th-century magnum opus by the most outstanding Renaissance Man, currently displayed at Wawel Royal Castle in Krakow, to interpret the painting in your personal way.

Tour Overview

The art collections at the Palace of the Princes Czartoryski Museum include the world-famous portrait of "Lady with an Ermine" by Leonardo da Vinci, arguably the most valuable work of art present in Krakow.

The exhibition includes also Rembrandt van Rijn's Landscape with the Good Samaritan, sculptures, crafts, military or applied arts. It is also an immense collection of souvenirs presenting Poland's history.

A unique walk through the 21 halls of the Princes Czartoryski Museum begins at the Podest, which displays two monumental genre canvas paintings by Jan Piotr Norblin. Further on, there are rooms dedicated to the Czartoryski family, which will take visitors to the rooms showing the history of Poland: from the time of the Jagiellonians to the end of the First Polish Republic. On the first floor of the Museum, viewers will also see the most beautiful works of religious art. The rooms further on will take visitors to a completely different scenery - the world of Far Eastern art.

Visiting the second floor begins with the Antique Salon, and then moves on to the room dedicated to Renaissance art. From there, you can go to the room where Leonardo da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine is displayed. The following rooms will take viewers on a journey through the art of the Middle Ages, the art of 15th-17th century Northern Europe - up to Rembrandt's time. The second floor in the Polish Room shows mementoes, mainly from the Temple of the Sibyl in Puławy, and in the outbuilding rooms - library collections and a set of graphics and drawings.

The Princes Czartoryski Museum is one of the six locations worldwide where it is possible to admire the paintings by da Vinci, while "Lady with an Ermine" represents one of the four rare examples of female portraits painted by the master's hand, along with "La Gioconda " or "Ginevra de Benci".

"Lady with an Ermine" is an oil work created on a walnut wooden panel, depicting 16-year-old Cecilia Gallerani &ndash a mistress of the mighty Duke of Milan Ludovico Sforza, the commissioner of the masterpiece. The three-quarter profile of the face of Gallerani, a member of a non-aristocratic family who bore a child to the Duke the same year he got married, is a greatly-composed portrait the play of lights shows a hint of a smile on the face of a young lady holding an ermine, the armorial animal of her beloved aristocrat. In the 1800, the portrait was bought by a Polish-born prince Czartoryski as a gift to his mother. After having been re-captured from the Nazis, it would be displayed at the Krakow-based Czartoryski Museum until it was re-located to royal Wawel. If you are interested in discovering the remaining mysteries associated with the painting, contact us with no hesitation &ndash we will surely guide you through what the experts on Leonardo da Vinci have discovered.

Lady with an Ermine

A portrait of Cecilia Gallerani who was the mistress of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. Leonardo was probaly in the service of the Duke when this was painted. The ermine is though to symbolize purity. Leonardo said about the ermine:

"Moderation:The ermine out of moderation never eats but once a day, and it would rather let itself be captured by hunters than take refuge in a dirty lair, in order not to stain its purity." and "Moderation curbs all the vices. The ermine prefers to die rather than soil itself."

"The association of the ermine with Cecilia Gallerani could have been intended to refer both to her purity and to make an association with her lover. Alternatively, the ermine could be a pun on her name because the Ancient Greek term for ermine, or other weasel-like species of animals, is galê (γαλῆ) or galeê (γαλέη)"

The Lady with an Ermine has been subjected to two detailed laboratory examinations. The first was in the Warsaw Laboratories, the findings being published by K. Kwiatkowski in 1955. The painting underwent examination and restoration again in 1992, at the Washington National Gallery Laboratories under the supervision of David Bull.[11]

The painting is in oil on a thin walnut wood panel, about 4–5 millimetres (0.16–0.20 in) thick, prepared with a layer of white gesso and a layer of brownish underpaint.[11] The panel is in good condition apart from a break to the upper left side of the painting. Its size has never been altered, as indicated by a narrow unpainted strip on all four sides of the painting.

The background was thinly overpainted with unmodulated black, probably between 1830 and 1870, when the damaged corner was restored. Eugène Delacroix was suggested to have painted the background. Its previous colour was a bluish grey.[11] The signature "LEONARD D'AWINCI" (which is Polish phonetical transcription of the name "da Vinci") in the upper left corner is not original.[12]

X-ray and microscopic analysis have revealed the charcoal-pounced outline of the pricked preparatory drawing on the prepared undersurface, a technique Leonardo learned in the studio of Verrocchio.[13]

Apart from the black of the background and some abrasion caused by cleaning, the painted surface reveals the painting is almost entirely by the artist's hand. There has been some slight retouching of her features in red, and the edge of the veil in ochre. Some scholars believe there also was some later retouching of the hands.[11]

Leonardo's fingerprints have been found in the surface of the paint, indicating he used his fingers to blend his delicate brushstrokes.[14]


A French scientist has revealed a major new discovery about one of Leonardo da Vinci's most famous paintings, shedding new light on his techniques.

The Lady with an Ermine (Cecilia Gallerani)

The portrait Lady with an ermine (1489-1490) by Leonardo Da Vinci depicts Cecilia Gallerani, the teenage mistress of Ludovico Sforza, the regent and later the Duke of Milan. While some scholars doubted this identification, ample evidence affirms Cecilia Gallerani is the subject of Lady with an ermine. The earliest mention of the portrait appears in a sonnet by court poet Bernardo Bellincioni, in which he notes that it seems as if Cecilia is listening to an unseen speaker. Further confirmation exists in a correspondence between Cecilia and Isabella d’Este, the marquise of Mantua. In her letter, the marquise asks Cecilia to send her the portrait so she can compare Leonardo’s work to that of another master, Giovanni Bellini. Most importantly, the correspondence reveals that although Ludovico commissioned the painting, Cecilia owned it.

It is possible that because Cecilia was not of the highest rank, Leonardo allowed himself the freedom to break away from local conventions of portraiture. Most notably, he abandoned the local tradition of the profile portrait in favor of a three quarter view of the subject. Through the innovative pose Leonardo provoked the viewer’s curiosity and engaged them with the sitter of the portrait: she seems to be attentively gazing at something or someone out of view at the right side of the picture. The lady holds the ermine with her left hand, while her right hand elegantly caresses the animal’s shoulder. The suggestive hand gesture recurs in Leonardo’s later composition Leda and the Swan - even though the oil painting did not survive, the overall composition is known from drawings and oil copies made after Leonardo’s painting. In Lady with an ermine, Leonardo also demonstrated tremendous skill in his treatment of contrasting textures: the smooth skin next to the ermine’s fur, the carved jet-black beads against the chest and the intricately woven dress, the embroidered garment besides the smooth plain silk.

One of the key elements of the painting is the lively creature Cecilia holds in her arms. In fact, the symbolism of the ermine provides further evidence supporting the identification of Cecilia as the sitter. The ermine is a symbol of moderation and purity, and as such, its inclusion is appropriate for a portrait of a mistress of a Renaissance duke. Scholars also pointed to the fact that the Greek word for ermine is galé, thus it is a play on the Cecelia’s surname (Gallerani). Additionally, some have suggested that the ermine is an emblem associated to Ludovico, thus the ermine can be interpreted as an allusion to Cecilia’s lover.

Lady with an ermine was purchased in Italy around 1800 by the Polish Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski. He brought the painting to Poland, where he presented it to his mother, the Princess Izabella. The painting was incorporated into the family collection in Puławy, the museum founded by Princess Izabella in 1796. Today, it is the highlight of the collection at the Czartoryski Museum in Kraków, and is considered one of Poland’s national treasures.

Lady with an Ermine (Italian: Dama con l'ermellino [ˈdaːma kon lermelˈliːno] Polish: Dama z gronostajem) is a painting by Leonardo da Vinci from around 1489–1490 and one of Poland's national treasures. The subject of the portrait is Cecilia Gallerani, painted at a time when she was the mistress of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, and Leonardo was in the service of the duke. The painting is one of only four portraits of women painted by Leonardo, the others being the Mona Lisa, the portrait of Ginevra de' Benci, and La belle ferronnière. The painting was purchased in 2016 from the Czartoryski Foundation by the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage for the National Museum in Kraków and has been on display in the museum's main building since 2017.

The small portrait generally called The Lady with the Ermine was painted in oils on wooden panel. At the time of its painting, the medium of oil paint was relatively new to Italy, having been introduced in the 1470s.

The subject has been identified with reasonable certainty as Cecilia Gallerani, who was the mistress of Leonardo's employer, Ludovico Sforza.

Cecilia Gallerani was a member of a large family that was neither wealthy nor noble. Her father served for a time at the Duke's court. At the time her portrait was painted, she was about 16 years old and was renowned for her beauty, her scholarship, and her poetry. She was married at approximately age six to a young nobleman of the house of Visconti, but she sued to annul the marriage in 1487 for undisclosed reasons and the request was granted. Cecilia became the mistress of the Duke and bore him a son, even after his marriage to another woman 11 years previously, Beatrice d'Este. Beatrice was promised to the Duke when she was only 5, and married him when she was 16 in 1491. After a few months, she discovered the Duke was still seeing Cecilla, and forced the Duke to break off their relationship by marrying her off to a local count named Bergamino.

The painting shows a half-length figure, the body of a woman turned at a three-quarter angle toward her right, but her face turned toward her left. Her gaze is directed neither straight ahead, nor toward the viewer, but toward a "third party" beyond the picture's frame. In her arms, Gallerani holds a small white-coated stoat, known as an ermine. Gallerani's dress is comparatively simple, revealing that she is not a noblewoman. Her coiffure, known as a coazone, confines her hair smoothly to her head with two bands of hair bound on either side of her face and a long plait at the back. Her hair is held in place by a fine gauze veil with a woven border of gold-wound threads, a black band, and a sheath over the plait.

There are several interpretations of the significance of the ermine in her portrait. The ermine, a stoat in its winter coat, was a traditional symbol of purity because it was believed an ermine would face death rather than soil its white coat. In his old age, Leonardo compiled a bestiary in which he recorded:

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Interpretation of Lady with an Ermine

This masterpiece of Renaissance art, one of a handful of Renaissance portraits completed by Leonardo da Vinci, was commissioned by Ludovico Sforza - known as "il Moro", Duke of Milan, for whom Leonardo worked during the period c.1482-99. The lady - actually a 16-year old girl - is Cecilia Gallerani, reputedly the Duke's favourite mistress, who gave birth to his child in the same year that he married Beatrice d'Este. Holding the armorial animal of Ludovico il Moro in her arms, she is shown turning to the right, her eyes fixed on something off camera, with a hint of a smile on her lips. One of the finest Renaissance paintings, Lady with an Ermine is the main highlight of the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow. Other surviving portrait paintings by Leonardo include: Portrait of a Musician (c.1485, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana) Portrait of a Woman (La Belle Ferroniere) (1494, Louvre) Isabella d'Este (c.1499, Louvre - only the charcoal and red chalk drawing survives) Mona Lisa (La Gioconda) (1503-13, Louvre) Head of a Woman (La Scapiliata) (c.1508, Galleria Nazionale, Parma) St John the Baptist (c.1513, Louvre) Bacchus (St John) (1513-15, Louvre). In the subtlety and grace of his figure painting, Leonardo remains unequalled.

This oil painting is executed on a walnut wood panel, primed with a layer of white gesso and brown underpaint. The original background of bluish-grey was repainted in black, allegedly by Eugene Delacroix, during the mid-19th century. Measuring 54 x 40 cm (21 x 16 inches), it shows a half-length figure of a girl (Cecilia Gallerani) turned at a three-quarter angle to her right, but with her face turned to her left. She is gazing at something, or someone, off to the right. In her arms she holds a small greyish animal referred to in the title as an ermine, but also called a stoat. Dressed in a fairly simple tunic, with her hair bound and plaited, Cecilia was one of a large non-aristocratic family, although she was known at court for her intellectual gifts, her poetry and her love of music.

Lady with an Ermine exemplifies several techniques of High Renaissance painting. First, Leonardo's mastery of chiaroscuro - the use of shadow to enhance the three-dimensional relief of the figure. Second, his use of sfumato to create fine and very gradual tonal changes, notably around the eyes and mouth - a technique he used extensively in the Mona Lisa. Third, X-ray and microscopic examination of the picture has revealed a preparatory drawing (delineated in charcoal) on the undersurface, a technique that Leonardo absorbed in the workshop of his teacher, Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-88). In addition, it shows that a window originally appeared on the right of the picture, but was later deleted. Laboratory analysis has also uncovered Leonardo's fingerprints in the surface of the paint, proving that he used his fingers to blend his brushwork.

As in other Leonardo's paintings - see, for instance, The Virgin of the Rocks (c.1484, Louvre Museum) - Lady with an Ermine contains a pyramidic structure with the sitter captured in the act of turning to her left (while the ermine turns to its right), reflecting Leonardo's keen interest in the dynamic effects of movement.

The painting is also an excellent illustration of Leonardo's anatomical expertise. Cecilia's exposed right hand, for instance, is painted in great detail: each wrinkle around her knuckles, each fingernail - even the flexed tendon in her forefinger - is depicted with painstaking accuracy, as is the beauty spot on her right cheek. Almost every strand of fur around the Ermine's right ear is individually replicated.

The ermine is included in the portrait for several symbolic reasons. To begin with, in its white winter fur, the ermine was a traditional symbol of purity. In his notebook, known today as Codex H, Leonardo compiled copious notes on numerous animals, one of which was the ermine. He praises it for its moderation and purity. He also illustrated it - see his drawing The Allegory of the Ermine (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge). It seems therefore that the creature was included as an allusion to Cecilia's purity and moderation. In addition, it also alluded to Ludovico il Moro, who had been a member of the Order of the Ermine, and used the animal as a personal heraldic emblem. This, in conjunction with Cecilia's gaze, gives Ludovico an invisible but important presence in the picture - an understandable response to a generous patron.

Lady with an Ermine was purchased in 1798 by the Polish Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski and incorporated into the family art collection at Pulawy. It was moved frequently during the course of the 19th century: Princess Czartoryski rescued it from the invading Russian army in 1830, then dispatched it to Dresden and afterwards to Czartoryski family in exile in Paris, before , returning it to Krakow in 1882. In 1939, Nazi officials seized it and sent it to the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin. The following year, Hans Frank, the Governor General of Poland, requested its return to Krakow. In 1945 it was taken to Frank's country home in Bavaria, where it was duly liberated by American troops who returned it to the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow.

Leonardo remained in the service of Ludovico Sforza for almost two decades (1482-99), as artist, architect and as chief engineer during the Duke's numerous military activities. In addition to painting, his largest commission was for a massive bronze statue to Francesco Sforza, father of Ludovico, in the courtyard of the family castle. It was during his stay in Milan that he completed The Last Supper (c.1496) for the end wall of the dining hall at the convent of Santa Maria della Grazie.

For more details about late quattrocento art, see these resources.

• For more about Italian Renaissance portraiture, see our main index: Homepage.

Relocation to Venice and Political Unrest in Italy

Ludovico Sforza was overthrown at the beginning of the Second Italian War and thus Leonardo, along with his assistant Salai and his friend, the renowned mathematician Luca Pacioli, fled to Venice. Here he worked as a military architect and engineer, designing defense plans to protect the city from naval attack. He returned to Florence in 1500 and lived as a guest of the monks of the Santissima Annunziata monastery, where he painted The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist, which according to the art historian Vasari, was hugely popular.

Da Vinci then went on to work for Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI, as a military architect, engineer and cartographer until he returned to Florence and the Guild of Saint Luke in 1503. It was at this time that he began to work on his most famous painting, a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, now known as The Mona Lisa. It is speculated that he worked on this until his final years.

In 1515, King Francis I of France captured Milan and the following year Leonardo entered his service where he drew up architectural plans for a castle town and other inventions. Da Vinci died in France in 1519, in the house given to him by Francis I.

Leonardo's love for nature

Leonardo was a vegetarian and saw nature first in everything. To deprive an animal of its desire for freedom and to imprison it for one's own pleasure must have seemed deeply alienating to him. He therefore gives us hints about the very practical problems of keeping pets, which should make us think about whether we would prefer to see the creatures of nature in freedom instead of depriving them of their soft fur. Especially since it is very laborious to hold on to the creatures striving for freedom by nature.
Thus Leonardo shows in the torn left sleeve how sharp-clawed a pet can be.
Also the biting instinct, is indicated by dark spots around the mouth of the animal. They could be from clotted blood from a previous bite by the predator.
The weasel escaping from the lady's firm grip, its tense right paw already ready to jump, and its hind legs also eluding the lady's grip, indicate the animal's desire for freedom.
In addition the nose of the lady is exactly over the nose of the ermine. A reference to the strong body scent of the ermine.
Lastly, the lady's black necklace speaks to Leonardo's understanding of the relationship between man and animal. Where the links are not sculpted into spheres in which a light source is reflected, i.e. in the immediate vicinity of the neck, they are reminiscent of plate-shaped lentils, much like black lentils, which, due to their high protein content, are used as a meat substitute today, especially by vegans. Whereas the right spheres look like dried black fruits, much like peppercorns that were often served with meat. Thus, the chain, entirely in Leonardo's understanding, is an indication to first consult nature for alternatives than to eat its inherent creatures without need.

Leonardo da Vinci's Masterpiece 'The Lady With the Ermine'

After mounting a steep staircase at the ancient Wawel Castle in Krakow, Poland, I am permitted to enter a room containing only one mesmeric painting. The guard looks at me with a stern expression, and his vigilance is understandable. For the portrait displayed on the wall has long been venerated as one of Leonardo da Vinci's most consummate achievements. He executed it, with outstanding finesse, in 1490. And the patron who probably commissioned it was the powerful Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza.

The painting enjoys a mysterious title: "The Lady With an Ermine." But historians now feel confident that she is Cecilia Gallerani, a beautiful and talented young woman whose father served at Ludovico's court. Still a teenager when this portrait was painted, she had just become the Duke of Milan's mistress. Even so, Leonardo had no desire simply to produce a glamorous painting of a youthful beauty showing off her allure. He shows her in a relatively simple dress, and Cecilia's necklace does not glisten with expensive jewels. Nor is her hair coiffured in a conventionally seductive manner. Far from it: A center part divides Cecilia's hair into two smooth bands confined very tightly to the sides of her face. The sheathed plait at the back is difficult to detect, and a severe black band runs round her head as if to control the fine gauze veil holding her coiffure in place.

Cecilia seems determined to ensure that no one mistakes her for a flamboyant noblewoman. She was admired not just as a beauty but as a scholar, a wit and a poet. Ludovico must have been impressed by her precocious intelligence and creativity. Doubtless bored with the brainless charm of so many ambitious ladies, who continually dressed up to compete for his attention at court, he had become captivated instead by Cecilia's far cooler and more perceptive individuality. Leonardo, who began working for the duke in 1482, must likewise have admired her thoughtfulness. Cecilia does not stare out directly at the viewer. Unlike the Mona Lisa, she turns her gaze away from us completely.

Leonardo invites us to decide on Cecilia's mood, because his discerning imagination knew that the workings of the human brain should not be reduced to a simple formula. Rather than looking at someone or listening intently, Cecilia may well be lost in her own thoughts. As the duke's mistress, she might even be recalling her emotional distress after a young nobleman called Stefano Visconti proposed to her. About 10 years old at that time, Cecilia was duly betrothed to him. Yet the marriage was called off in 1487. So by the time Leonardo painted this portrait she had every reason to feel guarded about Duke Ludovico's attentions.

When regarded solely as a symbol of honor and purity, the ermine's prominent appearance in this painting of a mistress may seem surprising. The presence of this carnivorous animal, whose brown fur turns white in winter, undoubtedly adds to the work's richness of meaning. The creature Cecilia holds in her arms may well have been kept as a pet by the duke and his mistress. But Ludovico had a special reason to cherish the ermine. In 1488, just before this portrait was painted, he was awarded the insignia of the chevalric Order of the Ermine by the King of Naples. As a result, the Duke of Milan was known as "l'Ermellino," and Cecilia Gallerani herself would have appreciated the fact that the Greek for ermine (or weasel) is galay. The animal's presence in this painting may therefore have been seen as a visual pun on her surname.

12. It’s located at the Czartoryski Museum in Kraków

The painting, along with various other paintings in the Czartoryski collection, was bought by the Polish government for €100 million on December 29, 2016, from the last descendant of the family.

It is now located in the Czartoryski Museum in Kraków and officially became one of Poland’s national treasures! The museum in Krakow / Mkos /

This concludes the ultimate list of Lady with an Ermine facts, one of the four paintings of a woman that Leonardo da Vinci ever created, and now one of the most famous paintings in Poland!

Watch the video: Leonardo da Vinci: Lady with an Ermine. Jones Gallery Lecture Series (August 2022).