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Lady with an Ermine

An exhibition hosted at: Palazzo del Quirinale, Rome - Brera Art Gallery, Milan - Pitti Palace, Florence
Open from: October 15 1998 - January 24 1999

After a long debate, the critics agree that the Lady with an Ermine portrayed by Leonardo is Cecilia Gallerani. Milan's court poet Bernardo Bellincioni wrote in one of his sonnets (1493) that Leonardo had painted the portrait according to Ludovico il Moro's wishes.

Cecilia was born in a large family from Siena, around 1473. Her father Fazio, who occupied several posts at Milan's Court, wasn't a nobleman nor was he particularly rich. Cecilia was probably educated by her brothers' tutor, as we know that she had studied literature and Latin.

In 1483 Cecilia Gallerani became the fiancÚe of Stefano Visconti, but the engagement was broken off in 1487. In May 1489 she left her family house and went to the Monastero Nuovo. Very likely, that was the time of her love affair with Ludovico Sforza, called "Il Moro", whom she regularly saw until 1492.

History says that not only was Cecilia very beautiful but she could also write in Latin with propriety of language and was a poetess too. ("oltre alla lingua latina, nella quale elegantissimamente scriveva epistole, molto leggiadramente compose versi in idioma italiano, e discorreva con tal prontezza, e vivacitÓ etiando alla presenza di gran filosofi, e teologi, ch'era stimata non cedere alle antiche Assiotee e Aspasie donne eloquentissime dei suoi tempi'' - excerpt from Theatro delle donne letterate by F. A. Della Chiesa, Mondový, 1620).

She therefore became a prominent lady at the duke's court until 1491, when Ludovico il Moro got married to Beatrice d'Este, even if he was not much in love with her. In the same year Cecilia gave birth to Cesare Sforza Visconti, Ludovico's son.

In 1492, she married count Ludovico Carminati de Brambilla, called "il Bergamino", and then moved to the Palazzo Carmagnola, which Ludovico il Moro had given to his son Cesare as a present.

Our sources say that in 1498 the duchess of Mantua Isabella d'Este wrote to Cecilia Gallerani asking her for her portrait, which she wanted to compare with portraits by Giovanni Bellini. Cecilia agreed, making however clear that the portrait was no longer a good likeness because she had changed her appearance since the time when it had been painted ("per esser fatto esso ritratto in una etÓ sý imperfecta che io ho poi cambiata tutta quella effigie".)

Cecilia gave birth to four children. She kept having literary salons inside the Palazzo Carmagnola until the French confiscated the lands in Saronno and Pavia, which Ludovico il Moro had given to her, and she had to take refuge in Mantua with Leonardo. She could recover her property when the Sforza came in power again.

After her husband and her son Cesare died in 1514 -15, Cecilia divided her time between Milan and the estate in S.Giovanni in Croce, near Cremona. There she received Matteo Bandello who dedicated her the Novella XXII, describing Cecilia and the well-learned Camilla Scarampa as "le nostre due Muse" (our two Muses).

Like most of the intellectual women of that time, Cecilia devoted culture to her personal pleasure only. In fact, she never published any of the poems and essays that she wrote. She died in 1536.

Press release
Highlights of the exhibition
Formal meanings and iconography
Preservations and scientific examinations
Dress and coiffure
The story of the painting in the Czartoryski collection
The Lady with an Ermine and portraits in the period between the XV century and XVI century in Milan
Leonardo Da Vinci: biography


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