The oil on canvas painting, Lady with an Ermine (1490 c.) is a portrait of Cecilia Gallerani in an upright position facing ever-so slightly to the viewer looking past the viewer off in to the distance to the left and is cradling an Ermine, believed to be an animal of purity. The painting is portrayed art of the high renaissance style.
Like the Mona Lisa, Cecilia has a hint of a smile on her lips but she is looking off the camera. She is dressed in a fairly simple tunic; with her hair bound and plaited she was from a non-aristocratic family. She was known for her poetry, love of music and her intellectual gifts.
Three techniques are heavily used in the portrait and these are:
- Da Vinci’s mastery of chiaroscuro (using shadow to enhance a figure). Light is pouring itself over the figures face, and in the bottom left the girls’ body is dark in colour to draw our eye to the face.
- Sfumato (very gradual tone changes, also used in the Mona Lisa) is used notably around the eyes and mouth. It creates beauty of the figure and portrays her more realistically.
- Scientific examination of x-rays shows that there was once originally meant to be a window to the right of the figure but Leonardo must have changed his mind in the final image. Through laboratory analysis Leonardo’s fingerprints have been found within his brushwork to blend his colours.
The pyramidic structure of Lady with an Ermine reflects Leonardo’s keen interest in dynamic movements. Focusing closely on Cecilia’s right hand we see every bump in the knuckle, every detail in the nails, every little beauty spot on her face. This painting is definitely not one of bias. In looking at the ermine we see that almost every strand of hair is painted individually and that around the ear the detail is very high. It is very hard to imagine the patience put in to this painting.
The ermine is classed as an exotic pet nowadays and is very wild. But in looking at its white fur it is symbolic of being purity. In Leonardo’s notes he describes the ermine of being an animal of moderation and purity. The symbolism gives us an allusion of Cecilia having purity and moderation.