LADY WITH AN ERMINE by Leonardo da Vinci
Painted by the Renaissance Italian artist in 1489-90, Lady with an Ermine is a 54 x 39 cm painting in oils on a walnut wood canvas. Da Vinci is only known to have painted four portraits of women, including the legendary Mona Lisa, so this one is a rarity. The subject of the painting is Cecilia Gallerani, the mistress of his patron, Ludovico Sforza, a man that would go on to become Prince of Milan, and who commissioned, amongst other works, the famous The Last Supper painting, also by Leonardo.
Despite on first glance appearing to be a simple portrait, it follows Leonardo’s lifelong interest in depicting the dynamics of movement. Here, Gallerani is shown turning to her left as if listening to someone in that direction, and uses a compositional technique comprising a pyramidic spiral. She is shown in three-quarter profile, something also innovated by Da Vinci, and holding an Ermine, a white-coated stoat.
In 1798, Prince Adam George Czartoryski, a Polish nobleman with an interesting history of his own, purchased the painting, incorporating it into the Czartoryski family collections at Puławy. Over the following centuries, it was repeatedly rescued from invaders – the Russians in 1830, and the Nazi’s in 1946. Returning to Kraków it was kept on display until moving to the newly reopened Czartoryski Museum on 19 December 2019. It was purchased, along with the rest of the collection, in 2016 by the Polish government for €100 million. Thanks to the coronavirus, it’s probably been seen by 3 people since… 😉