Eden Collinsworth

Oct 20, 2022

What the Ermine Saw

The Extraordinary Journey of Leonardo Da Vinci's Most Mysterious Portrait

Doubleday Books 2022

In the tradition of The Lady in Gold and The Hare with Amber Eyes, the remarkable history behind one of the world's most beloved paintings, Leonardo da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine More than half a millennium ago, a young woman sat before a Grecian-nosed artist known as Leonardo da Vinci. Her name was Cecilia Gallerani, and she was the fourteen-year-old mistress of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. Her lover, a ruthless man, was aware that da Vinci's brilliance as a painter would not only capture his mistress's beauty but reflect his own political prowess. Indeed, with this beguiling painting--in which Gallerani holds a strange white ermine close to her breast--da Vinci revolutionized the genre, changing not just what a portrait looked like, but also its purpose. But despite the work's importance in its own time, no records of it from the three hundred years following Gallerini's death exist.

In What the Ermine Saw: The Extraordinary Journey of Leonardo Da Vinci's Most Mysterious Portrait (Doubleday Books, 2022), Eden Collinsworth illuminates the eventual history of this exquisite oil painting, as it journeyed from one owner to the next--from the brutal Milanese Duke to a Polish noblewoman to the Nazis, who added it to Hitler's private collection, to the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow where it is currently displayed. Along the way, Collinsworth reveals a bewildering maze of social alliances and cultural upheavals, polarizing political divisions and territorial fragmentation. Expertly researched and deftly told, What the Ermine Saw is an enthralling account of Renaissance Italy and its actors, a comprehensive study of artistry and innovation, and a reminder that genius, power, and beauty always have a price.

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