Dama con Ermellino LADY WITH AN ERMINE - Leonardo Da Vinci Experience - Roma

Lady with an ermine

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Oil on panel, 54.8 x 40.3 cm

Czartoryski Museum – Krakow 

Top left, the apocryphal inscription:

 “LA BELE FERONIERE / LEONARD D’AWINCI” [La Belle Ferronnière / Leonardo Da Vinci]


One of Leonardo’s most famous works, known more as The Lady with an Ermine than the Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, it enjoyed some very improbable attributions before finally being confirmed as the work of the great master. Today we are sure that the lady portrayed is Cecilia Gallerani, born in 1465 and the daughter of a rich Milanese nobleman. Her beauty and intelligence made her famous at the court of Duke Ludovico Sforza, but he preferred to marry Beatrice d’Este, while Cecilia wed Count Bergamini of Cremona and went to live in Palazzo del Broletto Nuovo, in Milan.

Again, this portrait is set against a dark background. The young woman’s complexion glows with an inner light that focuses on the half-smile that makes her expression so indefinable. Nonetheless, the unique touch in the image is the small ermine, so attuned with the sitter’s expression, seeming to greet an invisible visitor.

The rest of the painting is an exercise in expertise: the ermine’s coat, offering up the softness of the fur; the slit sleeve, skilfully rendered with embroidery and strokes of colour from turquoise to scarlet; the braid trimming; and, last but not least, the unusual refined hairstyle that adorns the young woman’s head.