Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) is the archetype of the Renaissance Man. During his life he did it all: architect, painter, sculptor, musician, draftsman, engineer, geometer, inventor, anatomist, physiologist, botanist and scientist. In short, he was a true genius.
Leonardo is justly famous for his realistic paintings, such as the Mona Lisa, the Madonna of the Rocks, and the Last Supper, as well as for influential drawings such as the Vitruvian Man.
Lady with an Ermine
The painting, Lady With The Ermine, is thought to date from Leonardo's early years in Milan (c. 1482-1483). Like all of his portraits (with the exception of the Mona Lisa), there is some disagreement about this painting. Some historians consider that the sitter is Cecilia Gallerani, mistress of Ludovico Sforza (the Duke of Milan). Renaissance women contrived to look middle-aged before they were twenty and if it is her she would only have been about seventeen at the time. Another suggestion is that the painting is from a little later, around 1491, and that the woman is Ludovico's wife, Beatrice d'Este.
The third theory is that the subject may have been La Belle Ferronniere, a nickname given to the mistress of Francis I of France. Though some support for this idea came from an inscription in the upper left-hand corner which reads LA BELE FERONIERE LEONARD DA WINCI, most experts now consider this to be incorrect. The inscription is not original, but is a later addition.
Speculation also exists over whether this painting is partially or entirely by Leonardo, or possibly by Ambrogio da Predis or Boltraffio.
Lady with The Ermine has been heavily over painted. The entire background was darkened, her dress below the ermine was retouched and a transparent veil being worn by the woman was repainted to match the colour of her hair. The result of this last retouching has been to give the appearance that her hair reaches down and underneath her chin. Yet another change was the addition of dark shadows between the fingers of her right hand, a close look at the bottom two fingers shows they are quite inferior to the others after an unknown restorer repainted them. An x-ray of this painting revealed the presence of a door in the original background.
There are a number of things to support the idea this is Cecilia Gallerani, and that it was painted by Leonardo himself. Firstly, the ermine was used as a heraldic figure by Ludovico, it appeared on his coat of arms. Secondly, despite the heavy retouching of the painting the woman's face and the animal are intact, and the colours used were those Leonardo favoured during his first years in Milan. Despite her young age at the time of this portrait, Cecilia had already been seduced by Lodovico, had borne him a son and held a very commanding position at court.