Lady with an Ermine – Painter Leonardo da Vinci’s painting

Fabulous painting by Leonardo da Vinci, Lady with an Ermine was appraised by us. Discover this fascinating story.

It took experts over a hundred years to finally attribute Lady with an Ermine to Leonardo da Vinci.

Dame à Hermine - Leonard de Vinci

Lady with an Ermine – Leonardo da Vinci

This masterpiece is a national treasure in Poland, the equivalent of Mona Lisa for the French people. Kept in the Czartoryski Museum in Kraków, the painting is only accessible to two persons: the curator and the restorer.

In September 2007, Count Adam Zamoyski, then president of the Fondation des Princes Czartoryski, authorized us to digitize Lady with an Ermine in order to launch a new scientific study, the last dating back to 1955 and 1992.

After Mona Lisa in 2004, Lady with an Ermine is the second painting by da Vinci that we have had the privilege of digitizing. Leonardo left only a dozen.
Thirteen if we count the recently discovered work on parchment, La Bella Principessa.

Having access to da Vinci’s most famous work after Mona Lisa is a privilege and proof of the Foundation’s great confidence in our know-how.

For the shooting, the table was laid bare.

It was necessary not only to extract it from its frame, but also to remove the restraint frame, a sort of additional frame which keeps the walnut plank perfectly flat.

Even the edges, usually hidden, have been made accessible for the analysis to be complete.

It is extremely rare to be able to examine this painting in such conditions. Jean Penicaut and I would like to express our warmest thanks to the Fondation des Princes Czartoryski for this privilege.

The hopes aroused by this digitization were numerous: what would we discover again about Leonardo’s technique, the original colors, the state of conservation of the panel, the restorations, the varnishes?

Were we going to be disappointed with the results? All these questions were a source of concern and impatience.

Capturing an image is only the first step in a long process of scientific analysis, sharing of knowledge with experts, light specialists, curators…

We have worked a lot, explored all the data provided by technology, analyzed thousands of images and had the joy of discovering a lot of new information, of penetrating the know-how of the great Italian master a little better.


Lady with an Ermine

Lady with an Ermine is a Leonardo da Vinci‘s painting.


The subject of the artwork

The artwork is believed to represent Cecilia Gallerani, the mistress of Ludovic Sforza, Duke of Milan. Cecilia Gallerani (1473-1536) had become the mistress of Ludovic Sforza very young (around 1488-1489). Their affair lasted until the middle of the year 1492, after she had given birth to a son, Caesar. In 1490, Ludovic Sforza married Béatrice d’Este, who forced him to end this relationship.


History of the realization of the painting

We can therefore date the painting, either from the years 1488-1489 before the wedding, or a little later, if we admit like Frank Zöllner that it may be a farewell gift from Ludovic Sforza to his former mistress.


Recent history of the painting

The painting Lady with an Ermine was acquired by the Czartoryski family in 1798. It is currently on display in Poland. The painting was requisitioned by the Nazis in 1939 and then returned in 1949 to Poland in Krakow. The painting is on display at the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow (Poland).


Scientific expertise through multispectral analysis

La Dame à Hermine

Lady with an Ermine (spectrum)

With the support of the Fondation des Princes Czartoryski, we photographed Leonardo da Vinci‘s painting, Lady with an Ermine, on September 3, 2007 in Krakow with its MultiSpectral camera.

From the information obtained through the digitization of the panel and its in-depth visual examination at the Czartoryski Museum, a virtual restoration was carried out by our team on screen.

« It is an operation whose scientific function, while being established on the basis of precise material observations, remains that of a support for reflection. »

Indeed, only cleaning tests undertaken on the work itself would allow us to consider that a real restoration would lead or not to obtain a state close or similar to that of virtual cleaning.


The first conclusions of the multispectral analyzes are as follows :

    Pascal Cotte

    Pascal Cotte

  • A uniform black repaint masks the entire background of the portrait. It notably overflows with stiffness on the most sensitive contours of the work, for example: on the lighted part of the face which stands out against the background, and on the curve of the Lady’s left shoulder.

    This stiffness is incompatible with the art of Leonardo, infinitely delicate, since he recommended the subtle interaction of the form represented with its background (here a dark plain background) so by means of a chiaroscuro (chiaroscuro in Italian) devoid of any brutality.
    The multispectral camera picked up in places on the work the underlying color of the initial background, which had not completely disappeared and remained visible here and there. It was brownish in color with blue added; Leonardo had modulated the color so as to suggest space and depth. A proposal to return a fund of this type was made on screen.


  • The lower area of the portrait was once the subject of rearrangements that detuned the image in this place.
    The repaints were removed by computer. The Lady’s left hand has thus regained its consistency, as have the sleeves their real color.
    In this way, the spatial organization desired by Leonardo in this area has been restored.

  • Cecilia Gallerani‘s headdress has been stripped of a repaint starting from the right ear (not visible) and emphasizing the oval of the face with hardness under the maxilla.
    This removal made the cap light again and made it possible to very distinctly find the fine twisted yellow stripe which currently overhangs the eyebrows of the model, but which also originally bordered the part shown of the oval of the face.

    La Dame à l'Hermine

    La Dame à l’Hermine

  • The painting, although in good condition, is currently covered with a multitude of small repaints. They have been removed digitally, thus rendering all their freshness to the face, the neckline, the embroidered braid which borders it, the pearl necklace, the right hand, the black ribbons of the sleeves, the blue fabric and the red velvet costume, etc.
    The ermine had also been touched up. She found her white coat, meticulously represented by Leonardo, on screen.

  • The multispectral camera highlighted Leonardo’s technical work in the flesh, mainly in the neckline. As in other paintings by the master prior to the 1500s, the material was partly worked with the fingers.
    An interesting network of fingerprints is discernible, showing how Leonardo obtained the passages between light and shadow thanks to his digital technique.

    La Dame à l'Hermine

    Lady with an Ermine

  • In the parts of the anatomy very altered in their appearance, by the fact that the current black background overlaps them in part and abruptly, a simulation has made it possible to eliminate this annoying defect and to restore these essential zones (left side of the face , left shoulder) an aspect more compatible with the Leonardo style.

  • In the virtually cleaned state, the Lady with an Ermine found a complete stylistic coherence compared to works known by Leonardo at the time of the artist’s first stay in Milan (C.1482- 1499).
    The feeling of relief has become very perceptible again and the means used by Leonardo to achieve it better revealed.
    The sculptural effect is based on the contrasts of the lighting. The marked contrapposto movement, much more evident now, gives the impression of life.



Pascal Cotte then spent three years analyzing Lady with an Ermine.

  • The analysis of the pigments made it possible to reconstruct the original colors which deteriorated over time.
  • The ermine was not in the arms of the young woman, the animal was added by Leonardo.



External links about the Lady with an Ermine



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