The Pet Tree House - Where Pets Are Family Too : Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Lady with an Ermine Features Milanese Mistress Cecilia Gallerani Cradling a Stoat

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Lady with an Ermine Features Milanese Mistress Cecilia Gallerani Cradling a Stoat

Leonardo Da Vinci changed his mind twice while painting one of his best-known works, Scientists claim that after he left out the animal which has made it famous.

The Italian master's 1490 work The Lady with an Ermine features Milanese mistress Cecilia Gallerani cradling a stoat in its white winter coat, a powerful symbol of purity.

But a three-year study has shown the artist initially painted the woman without an animal at all, then added only a spindly gray creature, before settling on the final version.

The discovery was made by French optical engineer, Pascal Cotte, who has previously analysed the original colours of the now-faded Mona Lisa, Da Vinci's best-known portrait.

He invented a technology called the Layer Amplification Method (LAM) to analyse each addition to the oil painting, from the wood on which the canvas was mounted to the visible pigments on top.

He and his team projected intense lights onto the painting, which normally hangs in Krakow, Poland, and analyzed the way in which they were reflected.

By taking these microscopic measurements they were able to decode how the painting had been built up over time.

Mr. Cotte told the BBC: “The LAM technique gives us the capability to peel the painting like an onion, removing the surface to see what's happening inside and behind the different layers of paint.

We've discovered that Leonardo is always changing his mind. This is someone who hesitates - he erases things, he adds things, he changes his mind again and again.”

His findings have now been published in a 300-page book about the painting and how its secrets were uncovered.

The Lady with an Ermine was one of only four paintings of women by Da Vinci, but historians had found it odd that a 1493 poem about it did not mention the animal for which it is famous.

Mr. Cotte believes the work began as a far more conventional portrait of Miss Gallerani, who was a mistress of his patron, the Duke of Milan.
He said his findings suggest the Duke - who was nicknamed the 'white ermine' - may have suggested the animal's inclusion in order to reference himself in the painting.

Or his mistress, who was thought to be just 16 when Da Vinci painted her, could have requested the animal in order to make her relationship with the Duke public.

The ermine, which is another name for a stoat in its brilliant winter coat, was also a long-standing symbol of purity.

Da Vinci wrote a catalogue of animals in which he said, “The ermine out of moderation never eats but once a day.

It would rather let itself be captured by hunters than take refuge in a dirty lair, in order not to stain its purity.”

Its soft, unblemished coat was also prized for use in ceremonial robes, making the animal a sought-after statement of luxury and courtly wealth.

The painting was the star turn in a Leonardo exhibition at the National Gallery in London in 2011, which attracted hundreds of thousands of art lovers.

It was one of the first to use oil paint, a technique which had been introduced to Italy just a few years earlier.

Mr. Cotte co-founded the Multispectral Institute (LTMI), an expert body on scientifically analyzing paintings, and has used his technology to digitize The Lady with an Ermine and the Mona Lisa.

He has already digitized more than 2,000 masterpieces, allowing them to be studied in great depth without being removed from gallery walls.





Changing his mind: A study has shown Leonardo Da Vinci painted now-obscured versions of his masterpiece The Lady with an Ermine - first leaving out the animal (left) before including only a thin gray creature (right).





Finished work: The final painting, pictured, includes the white ermine as a powerful symbol of the lady's purity.





Painstakng: French optical engineer Pascal Cotte, who has also studied the Mona Lisa (left), said Da Vinci (right) was “always changing his mind. This is someone who hesitates, erases things, then adds things”.




Admired: The work was the star turn in a major Leonardo exhibition at London's National Gallery in 2011

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