At the end of the XVIII century the Czartoryski were one of the most ancient and enlightened families in Poland. Princess Isabella decided to found the first National Museum devoted to the history of her country in Pulawy. She entrusted architect Pietro Aigner with the project of the building, which was inspired by the neoclassical temple of Vesta in Tivoli. Isabella also wanted to collect exhibits from ancient times, in particular remains of famous Roman buildings, which her son Adam Jerzy found in Rome, also conducting private excavations in the forum. Such finds were taken to another Museum, called Casa Gotica (Gothic House), designed by Aigner, but inspired by the romantic ideals of the neo Middle Ages. Pictures, most of all portraits, were arranged at the upper floor of the Museum, forming an original gallery of famous personalities. Around 1809, princess Isabella put the Ritratto di giovane by Raphael and the Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo in the gallery. Adam Jerzy had purchased the two paintings when he had come to Italy around 1800. The painting was said to be a portrait of the Belle Ferronière, which the painter had already portrayed in the picture that is kept in the Louvre. This is confirmed by an inscription on the picture, which reads "LA BELLE FERONIERE/LEONARD D'AWINCI".
The most valuable exhibits in the collection were taken away from Pulawy because of the war between Poland and Russia. The pictures painted by Leonardo and Raphael were first set into a wall in Sieniawa Palace (Galitia) and then secretly taken to Paris, were Adam Jerzy, advised by Delacroix, had purchased Hotel Lambert in 1842 to exhibit his own collections.
This place probably saw the first restoration of the Lady, which led to the dark background typical of many portraits of the XV century in Italy. The picture was jealously kept inside the private rooms.
Prince Wladyslaw went back to Poland after the war between France and Prussia and decided to take all his collections to Cracow where he had a neo gothic and neo renaissance complex built to arrange the big library, archives and art collections.
The Lady, the picture painted by Raphael and the Paesaggio con Buon Samaritano by Rembrandt were exhibited in the Picture gallery main room, which was opened to a great public of visitors and scholars at the end of the '80s in the XIX century.
In 1914, just before the world war, the most valuable pictures in the Czartoryski collection were exhibited in Dresda Gemaldegalerie. They were taken back in 1920.
In 1939, the pictures were taken to Sieniawa inside a box, which the German found and confiscated. The pictures were temporarily put at Berlin Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum.
As the governorship was set up in Poland, the governor Hans Frank recovered the works to decorate his castle in Cracow. On the occasion, a mark with the inscription BURG 1227 near the ancient C.EC.DG418 (Collection Elisabeth Czartoryska Dom Gotycki) was put on the back of the picture by Leonardo.
Toward the end of the war the governor decided to take the most valuable exhibits in the Schliersee House in Bavaria. The American found the paintings and take them to Munich in a special warehouse with all the works they confiscated to the Nazis.
Finally, in 1946, the pictures were taken back to Cracow where, after the advent of the Communism, the collection became a section of the National Museum
In 1991, after the latest political changes, the Princes Czadoryski Foundation was established at Cracow National Museum, which is at present entrusted with the supervision of the collections.
Up to now, the Lady with an Ermine was exhibited in Warsaw, Moscow, Washington and Stockholm.
Highlights of the exhibition
Who was Cecilia Gallerani
Formal meanings and iconography
Preservations and scientific examinations
Dress and coiffure
The Lady with an Ermine and portraits in the period between the XV century and XVI century in Milan
Leonardo Da Vinci: biography