100 Days of Art History Jinjins


Lady with an Ermine

I had a lot of fun putting glasses on the ermine in this one. I also oddly enjoyed sinking time into carefully rendering her elegant hand and the fur on her pet. I wasn't yet at the stage where I was carefully trying to capture my own likeness. I was just going for a convincing human face, relying on the glasses to convey that it was me.

This painting is supremely elegant. My copy doesn't hold a candle to it. I guess that's why Da Vinci is one of the greats. I read somewhere that this painting was the inspiration for Lyra Belacqua, the main character of the His Dark Materials book trilogy by Philip Pullman, which I love. So when I look at it, I think about Lyra and Pantalaimon and all their adventures.

I didn't look up any information on the original subject until I sat down to write this entry. Looks like she's 16-year old Cecilia Gallerani, the most famous mistress of Ludovico Sforza. (There was also about a 20 year age difference between them...hmm.) According to Wikipedia she was intelligent and cultured, presiding over salon-like meetings of Milanese intellectuals. There are a lot of theories about what the ermine is supposed to mean, so many that they're all essentially meaningless to me. What does come through is the sense of an elegant young lady with an inner life.

One last detail--her head wrapping or hair or whatever is actually pretty confusing when you look at it closely. I have to admit I still don't fully understand it.

Reference image from Wikipedia. The painting is now in the Czartoryski Museum in Kraków.

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