Artibus et Historiae no. 25 (XIII)

1992, ISSN 0391-9064

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JANICE SHELL, GRAZIOSO SIRONI - Cecilia Gallerani: Leonardo's Lady with an Ermine

Controversy has long surrounded both the date of Leonardo da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine (Czartoryski Collection, Cracow) and the identity of the sitter. At the tum of the century, Jan Bołoz-Antoniewicz identified the young girl as Cecilia Gallerani, the mistress of Ludovico Sforza ("il Moro"), the ruler of Milan. It was long believed, based on a published document, that Cecilia was Ludovico's mistress by 1481, and that Leonardo painted her shortly after his arrival in Milan the following year. But a number of scholars have moved up the date of the portrait to c. 1490, which is eminently plausible on stylistic grounds. Cecilia later wrote to Isabella d'Este that she had sat for Leonardo when she was quite young, and if the new dating is correct, it would make her at least 25 at the time, scarcely youthful by Renaissance standards.

This article presents recently discovered documents which prove that Cecilia was actually born in 1473 or 1474, and further suggest that she became Ludovico's mistress only in 1489. Moreover, the 1481 document is shown to be a copy of a lost original and full of errors, one of which involves the date, which should instead be read as 1491. The conclusion is that the Cracow portrait is indeed of the young Cecilia and was painted around 1490, the year before Ludovico married Beatrice d'Este.

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