Arts Everyday Living: Happy Birthday Leonardo da Vinci! His Portrait of a Florentine Aristocrat

Leonardo da Vinci, Ginevra de Benci, c. 1474/1478, oil on panel, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Title: Ginevra de’Benci, c. 1474/1478

Artist: Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)


Tomorrow, April 15th, will be Italian Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci’s 572nd birthday. Only about a dozen of hie paintings are known to exist today, from the international icon Mona Lisa to The Last Supper to the Lady with an Ermine. Just one Da Vinci is in the United States: Ginevra de’ Benci, the jewel of the National Gallery of Art’s collection since 1967.

Ginevra de’ Benci holds a place of honor within the museum, set off from the rest of the Italian Renaissance portraits in a special display. At the time Leonardo da Vinci received the commission he was in his early twenties, already creating a masterpiece, harmonious in colors and defined by an extraordinary light that seems to actually move across Ginevra’s face. Can you almost feel the texture of her hair, especially the twisting patterns of curls?  Nature, too, is integral to the portrait: the rather forbidding branches of the juniper or ginepro (an Italian pun on her name Ginevra) tree emerging from behind her, contrasting to the poetic landscape in the distance.

Yet, where is Ginevra’s smile? Or even a hint? Her eyes listless, without expression as well?  An unusual demeanor for what is probably an engagement portrait.  For the 16 year old daughter of a wealthy Florentine banker is about to be married, her future husband a 32 year old widower Luigi Niccolini. Likely an arranged union, though did anyone ask Ginevra’s opinion?




In the public domain, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The National Gallery of Art does not endorse or approve use of the above image or any of the material on this website. Nor has the National Gallery of Art participated in any projects utilizing the said image.

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