“Moderation curbs all the vices. The ermine prefers to die rather than soil itself.”

Leonardo da Vinci was an inventor, scientist or draughtsman. Cesare Borgia briefly employed him as military architect and engineer between 1502 and 1503. Cesare and Leonardo became intimate friends and Cesare provided Leonardo with an unlimited pass to inspect and direct all planned and undergoing construction in his domain. Before meeting Cesare, Leonardo had worked as a painter at the Milanese court of Duke Ludovico Sforza in the late 1480s and  the 1490s, until Charles VIII of France drove the Sforza out of Italy.  While in Milano Leonardo painted the masterpiece “Lady with an Ermine”, portraying the sitter of Ludovico Sforza, who would have been about 17 at that time. Despite her young age of this portrait, Lady Cecilia Gallerani had already been seduced by Ludovico, had borne him a son (Cesare on May 3, 1491) and held a very commanding position at court.
In 1498 Isabella d’Este asked Cecilia for the portrait on loan as she wished to see a sample of Leonardo’s work. Cecilia wrote back ‘I send it without delay, and would send it with even greater pleasure if it were more like me. But your Highness must not think this proceeds from any defect in the Maestro himself, for indeed I do not believe there is another painter equal to him in the world, but merely because the portrait was painted when I was still at so young and imperfect an age.’
The picture is considered to be one of the first modern portraits in the history of painting on account of its psychological depth. It is composed almost entirely of curves which carry the eye from the woman’s head, down to the right, across the ermine and then back up the other sleeve. The only almost straight lines to be seen are the band on her head and the square-cut neckline on her dress. The portrait is absolutely magic, beautiful and lovely, with  the girl’s enigmatic expression (Bernardo Bellincione said ‘seemed to listen and not to speak’), the delicacy of her hand and the masterful rending of the ermine’s anatomy. We are much delighted to have one of the few undisputed paintings by the genius showing at The Royal Palace in Madrid, and we can think about another disputed artworkThe Adolescent Savior” that we have at the Lázaro Galdiano Museum  in Madrid.

Overwhelmingly, when you see the portrait of Lady Gallerani you can feel this strange fascination with Leonardo da Vinci’s sublime works…so, enjoy!

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