Leonardo da Vinci

1489 90 La dama del armiño

Stories behind the Works of Art

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Lady with an Ermine (1488-1490) Leonardo da Vinci


Behind this painting we find the history of a young lady called Cecilia Gallerani and an innocent animal that symbolizes something not so innocent.

Leonardo da Vinci was obsessed with perfection, precision, and that made him many times indecisive and made him correct and improve his paintings constantly.

All that process of different stages and corrections in each work can be reconstructed today thanks to certain technology which can obtain images of 240 million of pixels. The results when applying to this painting are amazing.

First it was discovered that Leonardo painted the woman without the ermine, and added it at the last moment. So he had to correct the hand of the lady. He also painted the animal twice, the first time he represented it smaller, and then bigger, muscular, vigorous and not by chance.

The history says that da Vinci met Cecilia Gallerani in Milan in 1484 in the palace of the benefactor of the artist, Ludovico Sforza “The Moor”, He was more interested in the capacity of Leonardo to design war weapons than in his art. Cecilia, who was 17 years old, interpreted music and wrote poetry, was as talented as pretty and very appreciated in Court for that. Ludovico really appreciated her and she was his mistress.

On the other hand, Sforza received in 1488 from Ferdinand I of Aragon, King of Naples, the Order of the Ermine. He was called “Ermellino” (“ermine” in Italian).

Now it is clear why Cecilia holds the muscular ermine in her arms. What is not clear is if Leonardo added the animal to please his benefactor or if the young Cecilia asked it so as to make it clear who the favorite of the duke was to the entire Court of Milan.


Recommended links:


The Stanze of Raphael and the High Renaissance.

Stories Behind Works of Art: The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli.

Fundamental Paintings to Understand the History of Painting: The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan van Eyck.

Fundamental Paintings to Understand the History of Painting: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, Caravaggio.

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