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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 paintings such as "La Velata" by Raphael and "La Venere di Urbino" by Titian were taken from the Uffizi Gallery (Florence, Italy) to Warsaw, also the "Lady with an Ermine" - one of the most beautiful and still little known portraits by Leonardo will be taken from Cracow Czartoryski Museum (Poland) to Italy, where it will be exhibited in different places from October 15 1998 until January 24 1999.

The portrait, painted on a thin panel made of walnut wood, was purchased by Polish prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski on the occasion of a journey to Italy, which he took around 1800. He then gave it to his mother Isabella, who was collecting works of art for Poland's first National Museum in Pulawy.

According to the latest research, Leonardo painted the "Lady with an Ermine" during his stay in Milan (1489-90). This portrait is a sort of "manifesto" of the artist's theoretical considerations in those years.

The lively movements of the woman's head, opposed to the stillness of her body, in fact, are meant to convey - just like in a snapshot - the "motion of her soul". Against all conventions and the immobility that characterises portraits of the time, Leonardo investigates the relationship existing between feelings and outward appearance, recognizing the psychological principles that inspire action.

Very likely, the portrayed character is Cecilia Gallerani, a prominent court lady in Milan, friend of poets and men of letters and a poetess herself. Just out of her teens, she was portrayed at the time of her love affair with Ludovico il Moro, the duke of Milan, who probably commissioned the portrait to the court artist Leonardo da Vinci.

The little ermine in Cecilia's arms could symbolise Ludovico himself, who had become a member of the Order of the Ermine, or maybe it is a symbol of virtue, that is moderation, which implies courtesy and "kindness".

The innovative and revolutionary representation of the human face in the Cracow portrait is intensified by a harsh light coming from the right. The dark background, which emphasises the light, is the result of a XIX-century restoration.

In fact, according to accurate scientific examinations that were made at Washington National Gallery of Art in 1992, the colour of the original background was probably grey-azure.

Press release
Who was Cecilia Gallerani
Formal meanings and iconography
Preservation 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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