A Mistress with Finesse

This painting is captivating, positively breathtaking in fact. This gorgeous lady magically grabs your eye, in the way she stands out before a black background through the elegance of her clothing and posture, her delicate features and fine skin. In a darkened room Leonardo‘s painting shined in all its splendor in front of a dark, apse-shaped wall. Separated from the other works in “Renaissance Faces,” it exuded an almost sacred aura of perfection.

Object of desire for thousands of visitors

This portrait is just 15 x 22 inches in size, yet it displays such unique artistry and visual innovation that it would be truly silly not to laud Leonardo as a giant in the history of art. Not for nothing was Lady with an Ermine– the object of desire for thousands of visitors – named the central work in this exhibition.

The painting was commissioned at the end of the 15th Century by Ludovico (“il Moro”) Sforza, named in the exhibition as one of those powerful courtiers of the early Italian Renaissance. Sforza lived in Milan and the portrait is said to depict his mistress Cecilia Gallerani.

 Leonardo da Vinci - Lady with an Ermine

Photo: Lady with an Ermine, 1489/90, © bpk / Scala, Courtesy of Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Leonardo – a trailblazer of soulful art

But a much more interesting aspect of this portrait is the motif of the representation. Lady with an Ermine is a prime example of the Quattrocento emergence of the reproduction of expressive character portraiture emphasizing the uniqueness of the individual. The painting seems almost “animated”; who can deny that Leonardo was a master, if not indeed a trailblazer of this soulful art?

This same mysterious look in the eyes that transfixes the viewer and touches us in the Mona Lisa will probably always fascinate. But the beautiful subject’s clothing and hair adornment, evidence of the fashion worn by 15th Century Lombardian ladies, leave a lasting impression as well. Equally delightful is the depiction of the ermine, an animal seldom seen in works of art that can also be found on the coat-of-arms of Ludovico Sforza.

The Bode Museum has strived for years to get this beautiful portrait to Berlin and there’s no doubt that it was worth the effort. Kudos to the curators of this exhibition! If the wait time at the Bode Museum was too long for some, they’ll presumably have to take a trip to Poland. But it’s certainly worth going to Krakow, where the portrait has been hanging since 1880, to experience Lady with an Ermine!