National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Wreath of Laurel, Palm, and Juniper with a Scroll inscribed Virtutem Forma Decorat [reverse] Leonardo da Vinci (artist)
Florentine, 1452 - 1519
Wreath of Laurel, Palm, and Juniper with a Scroll inscribed Virtutem Forma Decorat [reverse], c. 1474/1478
tempera on panel
overall (original panel only): 38.1 x 37 cm (15 x 14 9/16 in.) overall (thickness of original panel): 1.1 cm (7/16 in.) overall (with addition at bottom edge): 42.7 x 37 cm (16 13/16 x 14 9/16 in.) overall (thickness of addition at bottom edge): 1.9 cm (3/4 in.) framed: 59.7 x 57.8 x 3.8 cm (23 1/2 x 22 3/4 x 1 1/2 in.)
Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund
On View
From the Tour: Portrait Painting in Florence in the Later 1400s
Object 2 of 6

On the back of the panel is a second "portrait," an emblematic image that links Bembo and Ginevra. The wreath of laurel and palm, symbols of intellectual and moral virtue, was Bembo's personal device. Here it frames Ginevra's juniper sprig. Curling around all three is a scroll with the Latin inscription VIRTUTEM FORMA DECORAT (beauty adorns virtue). It is yet another reference to Ginevra, but was painted over a slogan that read "virtue and honor." The earlier motto was Bembo's and is strong evidence that it was he who commissioned Leonardo to decorate the portrait reverse. Who commissioned the front? We cannot say with certainty. Although Bembo may have ordered it, it was more likely commissioned by Ginevra's brother at the time of her engagement—we know he was a friend of Leonardo.

Leonardo was unique, at first, in using his fingers to blend oil paints, but soon this practice became common. Here, where the sky meets the juniper bush above Ginevra's shoulder, we can see his fingerprints. The blended paints allowed him to create soft transitions—and to re-create the natural world more convincingly than had ever been possible before.

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