Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci

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Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci - Sfumato Painting

Painting NameLady with an Ermine
Painter NameLeonardo da Vinci
Completion Date1490
Size54 cm × 39 cm (21 in × 15 in)
TechniqueOil Tempera
MaterialWood Panel
Current LocationMuzeum Czartoryskich w Krakowie Kraków Poland

Lady with an Ermine is one of the four ladies painted by Leonardo, other three being Mona Lisa, La belle ferronnière and Ginevra de’ Benci.

The Lady with an Ermine has segments of Pentimento as by radiography. A window has been detected on the upper right side, which was deleted later on by the artist. The painting consist some work called Moti Mentali meaning mental emotions. The term was mostly referred to Leonardo’s work and means the artist’s ability to depict the real mental thoughts, emotions and disposition of the subject on his/her face. That’s the painting has been described as “signaling a breakthrough in the art of psychological portraiture.”

Another noticeable element is artist’s little use of his well-known style of Sfumato around the subject’s eyes, nose and lips. Leonardo used this style extensively in the Mona Lisa painting, which, as speculated, is the reason of her mysterious smile.

The subject showed here is recognized as the favorite mistress of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. Her name was Cecilia Gallerani. She was renowned in the Duke’s court for her beauty and her abilities of poetry and scholarship.

The ermine in her hand is the symbol of her purity as scholars says by reading Leonardo’s own notations in one of his handbooks. In his Codex H, his Bestiary (a book about real and fabled animals compiled by any artist) he quoted about the animals as “The ermine out of moderation never eats but once a day, and it would rather let itself be captured by hunters than take refuge in a dirty lair, in order not to stain its purity.”

So, the Ermine’s practice of not letting its fur stained or dirty its presence in the painting becomes symbolic for the purity. Moreover, the vivid depiction of her hand with attentions to the littlest muscles indicates Leonardo’s deep knowledge about human anatomy.

Maybe not as much celebrated as Mona Lisa, Lady with an Ermine consists enough breakthroughs, elements and radiance to prove it to be Leonardo’s one of the most important painting.


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