Overview

Ginevra de' Benci's portrait is two-sided. This is the back, an emblematic portrait of Ginevra. A scroll bears her Latin motto, meaning "Beauty Adorns Virtue." In the emblem's center, a sprig of juniper (in Italian, ginepro) suggests Ginevra's name, while the encircling laurel and palm symbolize her intellectual and moral virtue. The laurel and palm also happened to be the personal emblem of Bernardo Bembo, Venetian ambassador to Florence, whose deep and abiding relationship with Ginevra is revealed in poems dedicated to them. Their platonic friendship was typical of the era and consistent with Ginevra's elite status as the daughter of a wealthy banker. Infrared examination has revealed Bembo's motto "Virtue and Honor" beneath Ginevra's. So it is likely Bembo who ordered the emblematic painting on the verso of the portrait. It is possible, but so far unproven, that he also commissioned the front.

Inscription

across bottom on scroll, the beginning of a hexameter: VIRTVTEM FOR/MA DECORAT (She adorns her virtue with beauty)

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

1967
Walker, John. "Ginevra de'Benci by Leonardo da Vinci." Studies in the History of Art 1 (1967): 4, 12, figs. 2, 10.
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, fig. 16.
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: 8-9, fig. 3.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 28-29, no. 22, color repro.
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. 16.15.
2012
Dempsey, Charles. The Early Renaissance and Vernacular Culture. Cambridge, Mass.: vii, 36, 39, 41, fig. 5.

Technical Summary

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