The Lady with an Ermine 1489/90.
Oil on wood panel, 21x15 inches 54x39 cm.
Czartoryski Museum, Krakow. (s)
In this painting Cecelia looks out from the picture over her
shoulder to her left. This opposition of the body and head creates a slightly
twisting motion. Leonardo has further emphasised this movement with his
representation of the ermine. By repeating the twist of the head in the animal,
he has mirrored the movement of the young woman. Cecelia’s hair is centre
parted, falling on either side of the head and then braided in a cloth tied
under the chin. The thin, black band around her forehead holds a transparent
veil in place, she wears a Spanish style dress, popular at the time.
The ermine (the name for the
winter coat of the stoat) is reproduced here larger than life. A symbol of
virtue and purity the ermine also alludes to Ludovico, Cecelia’s lover, who, in
1486, had been presented with the Order of the Ermine by King Farrante of
Leonardo uses the device of the sitter emerging from a dark background illuminating the face, hand, and Ermine in stark contrast to the gloomy surroundings. These devices are not a product of trail and error, Leonardo had studied the effects of light falling on objects and applied this knowledge to his paintings.
This is a particular favourite of mine.... From the expressive glance of the sitter, you can almost hear her thinking,
"what's going on over there? "
The 'struggling stoat' also appears interested in whatever is happening out of the viewers sight and, I often wonder about Cecilia's fingers!!
Are they really so thin?
Just elongated skin and bone. With an artist as talented as Leonardo da Vinci we have to assume that he painted them true to life.... So it would seem that Cecilia had rather odd fingers.