Overview

She was the daughter of a wealthy Florentine banker, and her portrait—the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas—was probably commissioned about the time of her marriage at age 16. Leonardo himself was only about six years older. The portrait is among his earliest experiments with the new medium of oil paint; some wrinkling of the surface shows he was still learning to control it. Still, the careful observation of nature and subtle three–dimensionality of Ginevra's face point unmistakably to the new naturalism with which Leonardo would transform Renaissance painting. Ginevra is modeled with gradually deepening veils of smoky shadow—not by line, not by abrupt transitions of color or light.

Other features of Ginevra's portrait reveal young Leonardo as an innovator. He placed her in an open setting at a time when women were still shown carefully sheltered within the walls of their family homes, with landscapes glimpsed only through open windows. The three–quarter pose, which shows her steady reserve, is among the first in Italian portraiture, for either sex.

At some time in the past, probably because of damage, the panel was cut down by a few inches along the bottom, removing Ginevra's hands. A drawing by Leonardo survives that suggests their appearance—lightly cradled at her waist and holding a small sprig, perhaps a pink, a flower commonly used in Renaissance portraits to symbolize devotion or virtue. Ginevra's face is framed by the spiky, evergreen leaves of a juniper bush, the once–brighter green turned brown with age. Juniper refers to her chastity, the greatest virtue of a Renaissance woman, and puns her name. The Italian for juniper is ginepro.

The vast majority of female portraits were commissioned on one of two occasions: betrothal or marriage. Wedding portraits tend to be made in pairs, with the woman on the right side. Since Ginevra faces right, this portrait is more likely to have commemorated her engagement. Her lack of obvious finery, however, is somewhat surprising. Jewels, luxurious brocades, and elaborate dresses were part of dowry exchanges and displayed a family’s wealth.

Inscription

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Marks and Labels

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Provenance

Reigning Princes of Liechtenstein in Vienna and later Vaduz, principality of Liechtenstein, by 1733, the date of a red wax seal, bearing the Liechtenstein arms, on the reverse;[1] purchased 10 February 1967 by NGA.[2]

Exhibition History

1948
Meisterwerke aus den Sammlungen des Fürsten von Lichtenstein, Kunstmuseum, Lucerne, 1948, no. 103.
1951
[Exhibition of paintings lent by the Prince of Liechtenstein], National Gallery, London, 1951, no cat.
1969
In Memoriam, Ailsa Mellon Bruce, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1969, unnumbered checklist.
2001
Virtue and Beauty: Leonardo's 'Ginevra de' Benci' and Renaissance Portraits of Women, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2001-2002, no. 16, color repro.

Bibliography

1896
Bode, Wilhem von. Die Fürstlich Liechtenstein'sche Galerie in Wien. Vienna, 1896: 63-65, no. 32, plate.
1967
Walker, John. "Ginevra de'Benci by Leonardo da Vinci." Studies in the History of Art 1 (1967): 1-38.
1968
European Paintings and Sculpture: Illustrations (Companion to the Summary Catalogue, 1965). Washington, 1968: 65, no. 2326, repro.
1969
Brachert, Thomas. "A Distinctive Aspect in the Painting Technique of the Ginevra de'Benci and of Leonardo's Early Works." Studies in the History of Art (1969-70): 84-104, repro.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 192, repro.
1976
Alsop, Joseph. The Rare Art Traditions: The History of Art Collecting and Its Linked Phenomenda Wherever These Have Appeared. Bollingen series 35, no. 27. New York, 1976: 17, fig. 5.
1978
King, Marian. Adventures in Art: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1978: 23, pl. 3 and 4.
1979
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1979: I:251-255, II:pl. 171, 171A
1979
Watson, Ross. National Gallery of Art Washington. New York, 1979: 33, color pl. 16.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 98, no. 63, color repro., 101.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 226, repro.
1990
Lippincott, Kristen. "The Genesis and Significance of the Fifteenth-century Italian Impresa." In Chivalry in the Renaissance. Edited by Sydney Anglo. Woodbridge, UK and Rochester, NY, 1990: 73.
1991
Gibson, Eric. "Leonardo's 'Ginevra de' Benci:' The Restoration of a Renaissance Masterpiece." Apollo 133 (March 1991): 161-165.
1991
Gingold, Diane J. and Elizabeth A.C. Weil. The Corporate Patron. New York, 1991: 10, color repro.
1991
Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1991-1992: no. 169, repro. (the painting was not in the exhibition).
1991
Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 258, 262, color repros.
1992
Bull, David. "Two Portraits by Leonardo: Ginevra de'Benci and the Lady with an Ermine." Artibus et Historiae 25 (1992): 67-83, repro.
1992
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 20, repro.
1997
Goffen, Rona. Titian's Women, 1997, no. 31, repro.
1998
Hohenstatt, Peter. Leonardo da Vinci: 1452-1519. Translated by Fiona Hulse. Cologne, 1998: 28, 32, repros.
2000
Kirsh, Andrea, and Levenson, Rustin S. Seeing Through Paintings: Physical Examination in Art Historical Studies. Physical Examination in Art Historical Studies, vol. 1. New Haven, 2000: 134-135, color fig. 125-126.
2002
Nutall, Paula. "'Lacking Only Breath': Italian Responses to Netherlandish Portraiture." In Borchert, Till-Holger. The Age of Van Eyck: The Mediterranean World and Early Netherlandish Painting 1430-1530. Exh. cat. Groeningemuseum, Bruges, 2002. London, 2002: 202, 207 fig. 230.
2003
Boskovits, Miklós, David Alan Brown, et al. Italian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. The Systematic Catalogue of the National Gallery of Art. Washington, 2003: 357-369, color repro.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 28-31, no. 22, color repros.
2006
Hartt, Frederick and David G. Wilkins. History of Italian Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture. 6th ed. Upper Saddle River, 2006: 453-454, color fig. 16.14.
2006
Rosenberg, Pierre. Only in America: One Hundred Paintings in American Museums Unmatched in European Collections. Milan, 2006: 16, 17, color fig. 14.
2009
Fagnard, Laure. Léonard de Vinci en France: collections et collectionneurs (XVème – XVIIème siècles). Rome: Bretschneider, 2009: 73.
2009
Gariff, David, Eric Denker, and Dennis P. Weller. The World's Most Influential Painters and the Artists They Inspired. Hauppauge, NY, 2009: 30, color repro.
2009
Radke, Gary M., et al. Leonardo da Vinci and the Art of Sculpture. Exh. cat. High Museum of Art, Atlanta; The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. New Haven and London, 2009: 39-40, fig. 16, 61 n. 73.
2011
Rubin, Patricia. "Understanding Renaissance Portraits." In The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini ed. Keith Christiansen and Stefan Weppelmann. Exh. cat. Berlin 2011. New York, 2011: 17, color fig. 7.
2011
Syson, Luke. "The Rewards of Service: Leonardo da Vinci and the Duke of Milan." In Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan. Exh. cat. London, 2011. London, 2011: 47-48, color fig. 31.
2012
Dempsey, Charles. The Early Renaissance and Vernacular Culture. Cambridge, Mass.: vii, 36-42, 101, fig. 4.
2012
Elam, Caroline. "Art and Cultural Identity in Lorenzo de' Medici's Florence." In Florence (Artistic Centers of the Italian Renaissance) edited by Francis Ames-Lewis. Cambridge, 2012: xii, 5, 238, color pl. 30.
2012
Wise, Michael Z. "The Prince's Treasures." ArtNews 111, no. 4 (April 2012): 95.
2013
Campbell, Stephen J. and Michael W. Cole. Italian Renaissance Art. New York, 2013: 250-251, color fig. 9.20.
2013
Harris, Neil. Capital Culture: J. Carter Brown, the National Gallery of Art, and the Reinvention of the Museum Experience. Chicago, 2013: 68-86, 181, 231, 399, 409, 519 nt.12, 520 nt. 16, ill.
2013
Walmsley, Elizabeth. "Technical images and painting technique in Leonardo's portrait of Ginevra de' Benci." In Leonardo Da Vinci and Optics: Theory and Pictorial Practice. Edited by Francesca Fiorani and Alessandro Nova. Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, Max-Planck-Institut. Studi e Ricerche 10. Venice, 2013: 54-77, fig. 1, fig. 2 (infrared reflectogram composite), fig. 3 (X-radiograph composite), figs. 4-8 (details).

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