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Leonardo Da Vinci The Lady with an Ermine
Leonardo da Vinci's enigmatic masterpiece, The Lady with an Ermine, is an intricate and symbolic construction of dizzying ambition, scope, and humility. An enduring icon of the Renaissance, Leonardo's deeply immersive study is a towering achievement of form and composition, hinging as it does on passions and tensions within and beyond the frame. Mysterious and alluring, Leonardo's lady draws the viewer into a caustic relationship punctuated by contrasting moments of ambivalence and arousal. Completed sometime towards the end of the 1480s, the sitter of Lady with an Ermine has been identified as Cecilia Gallerani, immortalized on commission from her lover, the Duke of Milan for whom she was the mistress and for whom Leonardo was employed. A well-educated individual, Cecilia had a firm grasp of Latin, music, reading, the writing of poems and also appeared to have had a beautiful voice. Qualities appreciated in the Sforza court of her day, Cecilia took part in meetings in which the Milanese intellectuals discussed the philosophy and literature of the nascent Renaissance. Leaving her father's house at the tender age of sixteen, Cecilia met Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. No more than two years later she had been painted by that archetypal Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci, a leading figure at the Milanese court.
The Duke, a red-blooded and impetuous individual, was a proud bachelor who revelled in the pursuit of women. A year after the young Cecilia became his lover he had married Beatrice d'Este , yet kept his mistress maintained in an apartment in the castle of Milan until 1491 when she gave birth to Sforza's son. Upon finding out about the relationship, d'Este demanded Cecila leave the apartment for a distant palace, where she met and married another man. During her reasonably lengthy life, Leonardo's enigmatic sitter was described as a fervent devotee of the arts, a patroness of painting, and a leading figure in the Salon culture of medieval Europe. Her independence of character, noticed in such a precocious age by the painter Leonardo, imbues The Lady with an Ermine with its captivating allure that has echoed through the ages.
Holding a squirming, ferret-like creature, an ermine, Cecilia's personality is reflected both in the guise of the animal and in her handling of it. Notoriously feral and resistant to taming, she has managed to tame the nervous passions of the ermine with only her cool demeanour and firm grip. To many at the time the painters assertion would have been to compare the lady and the creature, yet it appears more likely that Leonardo depicted his patron, the Duke of Milan, as the wriggling rodent, silenced and tamed by the raw power of this self-possessing woman.
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