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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

The Lady with an Ermine is painted in oil on a thin walnut wood panel, which is about 4 to 5 mm thick, size 40.5 x 55 cm, according to Leonardo's instructions. He painted the panel in a white preparation, then put a brownish layer and finally the colours. In the early '50s, the panel was accurately examined in Warsaw Laboratories by K. Kwiatkowski, who published the results of his examination in 1955. The painting underwent further examinations in the Washington National Gallery Laboratories in 1992. Supervised by David Bull, such examinations, along with a direct approach to the painting, revealed the following incontrovertible details:

  • The panel was never reduced nor altered in its format: about 3-4 mm along the borders of the picture have not been painted. Probably Leonardo put the portrait in a sort of frame or in wood fillets to handle it better while painting.

  • The painting is in good condition and, apparently, it has not been restructured, except for the background, on which a plain black layer was painted, probably between 1830 and 1870, after the corner at the left upper side of the picture was broken (also the inscription in this corner was written in the XIX century, maybe when the picture became a piece in the Czartoryski collection) The colour of the original background, which is still visible from close up in some parts, was grey-azure. Some scholars say that the black layer was painted by Eugène Delacroix, at the time when the picture was kept in Paris.

  • You can remark other circumscribed, more recent touches in red on the eyes, the tip of her nose and mouth. The veil on her hair has been emphasized with ochre brushstrokes under her chin. For the rest the painting his original and you can still remark the preparatory drawing in some parts

  • The left arm and hand have been painted by the author entirely, although they are quite flat (some scholars said they were retouched later) Leonardo deliberately left this part of the painting dark but, as usual, he gave the finishing touches to the hems with golden knots showing the authenticity of the painting also in the darker parts of the picture

  • Kwiatkowski remarked that Leonardo used his left hand to paint the coat of the animal. There are also traces of pounce and lines carved with a punch on the nose and right hand of the lady

  • Moreover, there are fingerprints on the head of the ermine, on the cheek and forehead of the Lady, which reveal that the surface was worked with the fingertips, as Leonardo used to do, (in fact, there are similar fingerprints also on the Ginevra De Benci, which is kept in Washington, the Battesimo di Cristo at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and on the Vergine delle Rocce at the Louvre in Paris)

  • X-rays taken in the '50s revealed that, originally, Leonardo had thought of painting a window or an arch on the right in the background. X-rays taken more recently, however, ruled such an hypothesis out and, although the background was retouched with dark colours, today the picture definitely looks like Leonardo himself had planned it

Press release
Highlights of the exhibition
Who was Cecilia Gallerani
Formal meanings and iconography
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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