Leonardo da Vinci, Ginevra de' Benci, c. 1474/1478, oil on panel,
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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."
Fingerprints visible on the paint surface show how the artist used his hand as well as a brush to blend colors and create soft, delicate edges.
This is the only portrait by Leonardo in North America. At some point in its history, the wood panel was cut down by as much as one-third. The missing lower portion may have shown Ginevra's hands, possibly folded or crossed, in a pose similar to that seen in the Leonardo drawing or the Verrocchio sculpture below.
LEFT: Leonardo da Vinci, Study of Hands, c. 1474, metalpoint over chalk, Windsor Castle, Royal Collection © HM Queen Elizabeth II
RIGHT: Andrea del Verrocchio, Lady with a Bunch of Flowers, c. 1475, marble, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence
Portraits tell us a great deal about the subjects represented--from them we learn how people looked, what they wore, when and where they lived, what they did for a living. A portrait also may provide hints about the sitter's character, personality, and mood. Sometimes it can tell us what the artist thinks (or wants us to think) about the person he or she is painting.
Copyright © 2013 National Gallery of Art, Washington