Art conservators Janusz Czop, left, and Janusz Walek open a box containing the Leonardo da Vinci painting Lady with an Ermine during a press presentation at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland, Tuesday, April 12, 2011. AP Photo/Alik Keplicz.
I find Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine more beautiful and much more interesting than his Mona Lisa. The lady is Cecilia Gallerani, (1473-1536) a young woman who entered the court of Milan around 1490. She became the mistress of Duke Ludovico Sforza and bore him a son. Ludovico Sforza was one of the wealthiest and most powerful princes of Renaissance Italy. He commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to paint The Last Supper. Sforza also commissioned Leonardo to paint the portrait of his mistress. At the time of the portrait, Cecilia was about seventeen. She was born into a large family and her father served for a time at the Duke's court. Cecilia was renowned for her beauty, her intellect and her poetry-wrting. At around ten she was promised to a young nobleman of the house of Visconti but the marriage was called off. Cecilia then became the mistress of the Duke but, alas, Ludovico chose to marry a girl from a nobler family, Beatrice d’Este. Duke Ludovico received the insignia of the chivalric Order of the Ermine from the King of Naples in 1488, and was nicknamed Italico Morel bianco ermellino ("Italian Moor, white ermine") because he was sort of swarthy. The ermine became the heraldic animal of the Sforzo clan. The ermine in Cecilia’s arms represents the couple’s relationship. It is written of him that he was an “unscrupulous intriguer” Was he a weasel as well?
Here's a painting of Sforza from his family's altarpiece at the time of the relationhip.
Cecilia Gallerani lives on in posterity in the painting exhibited in the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow. The Polish Culture Ministry and a board of conservators will soon be deciding whether Leonardo da Vinci’s painting is fit to be out on a prolonged tour of Europe’s galleries. The Czartoryski Foundation, which owns the work, wants to show it at three major exhibitions – in Madrid, Berlin and London. But the plans for the painting to leave Poland have sparked anxiety among art conservationists According to the chief conservator of the National Museum in Kraków, the Lady with an Ermine should undergo further research studies and should not travel to foreign exhibitions. Art conservationists warn that plans to transport the painting might cause damage to Poland's most precious picture.
With files from the Associated Press and www.thenews.pl