Portrait of Ginevra de' Benci - by Da Vinci
Ginevra de' Benci (1457-c. 1520) was a lady of the aristocratic class in 15th century Florence, admired for her intelligence by Florentine contemporaries. She is the subject of one of only about 17 existing paintings attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.
Unlike Leonardo's other portraits of women, this lady looks sulky, unforgiving and haughty; this is emphasised by the slightly smaller cast of one eye, making her look withdrawn. Her left eye seems to gaze directly at us while the right looks beyond to some invisible point. Like other Florentine women of the period Ginevra has shaved off her eyebrows (this is also obvious in the Mona Lisa). Maybe her expression indicates she was not entirely happy regarding her forthcoming marriage. In later life she was to go into self-inflicted exile in an attempt to recover from a severe illness; she was also tormented by an ill-fated love affair.
The marble appearance of her complexion -- smoothed with Leonardo's own hand -- is framed by the undulating ringlets of her hair. This then contrasts beautifully with the halo of spikes from the juniper bush. Leonardo veiled the background of this portrait in a thin veil of mist known as sfumato (literal translation: "turned to vapour"); this being created with overlaid oil glazes. Though Leonardo did not create this effect he become well-known for his skillful use of it.
At some point this canvas has had as much as on one-third cut from the bottom (estimates put the amount removed at around nine centimetres). This area would have been large enough to show her hands, folded or crossed, and resting in her lap. Their loss is a great shame as no one painted hands as beautifully as Leonardo.
Details of the Portrait
The Reverse Side of the Portrait (click image to view detail)
Leonardo da Vinci painted this portrait of Ginevra de' Benci, a young Florentine noblewoman who, at the age of sixteen, married
Luigi Niccolini in 1474. The work may have been an engagement or wedding portrait, or it may have been commissioned by Bernardo Bembo, the
Venetian Ambassador to Florence and Ginevra's close friend and admirer. On the reverse side of the painting, a wreath of laurel
and palm encircles a sprig of juniper and a scroll bears the Latin inscription, "Beauty Adorns Virtue."