Da Vinci Season – Part 1: Norms do… The Lady with an Ermine
Da Vinci is back in vogue in London. The exhibition Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan which is currently running at London’s National Gallery has received unprecedented high praise across the board. Critics are calling it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see so comprehensive a collection of Da Vinci’s remaining masterpieces in one show. One art critic’s review was so expressive with superlatives and emotional exasperation that it read as though she had been party to some kind of religious transmogrification. The paintings, she said, were so stunning that one could barely take them in through eyes which were uncontrollably veiled with tears of unrepressed joy. Or something like that. High praise indeed, and with 5 stars across the board, what better way to grasp at some last minute Christmas sparkle than by attending the exhibition itself, a visit upon which I shall embark tomorrow. While you will of course be the first to receive my review of the show for which tickets are allegedly selling for £400 each online (yes, the temptation to sell is there – for these two tickets I could get a 5 star weekend in Milan, let alone see a show about nine paintings and a load of sketches… but naturally I am opting, in good conscience, for the cultural extravaganza of the year), in the meantime, Part 1 of my seasonal homage to Da Vinci is in the form of the good old Norm parodies which you now know and love. Yes, today, the Norms bring you: Norm Lady with an Ermine.
And by way of comparison, here is Da Vinci’s stunning original masterpiece…
Da Vinci’s masterpiece was painted in around 1489-1490 and is usually to be found housed in the Czartoryski Museum, Kraków, Poland. It is in fact the central masterpiece of the Museum’s collection, and it’s inclusion in the London show is said to be the greatest coup for London curators of all their achievements in putting the show together. However, her inclusion was not without difficulty, and the Lady with an Ermine’s visit to London comes only as a result of huge democratic efforts, not just on the part of the National Gallery, but on behalf of the UK Government’s diplomats and foreign office officials.
The work is one of only four female portraits painted by Da Vinci, the remaining three of course including the infamous Mona Lisa. The subject of the portrait is Cecilia Gallerani, and was most likely painted at the time she was mistress of Lodovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, in whose employ Leonardo Da Vinci worked. At the time of the portrait, Cecilia was just sixteen. By far the most prominent aspect of the piece is the white-coated stoat, or “ermine” which Cecilia is painted holding. No one is too sure what the ermine symbolises, and various interpretations have been put forward. One suggests that the ermine, with its pure white coat (which it will protect against all odds – allegedly an ermine would rather face death than soil its white coat) represents purity. Another suggests that the ermine is representative of Duke Lodovico himself, whose personal emblem was an Ermine having entered the Order of the Ermine in 1488. This then could then refer to Cecilia’s status as the Duke’s lover, and indeed as a pure lady to boot. A third suggestion is that the ermine is featured as a pun, since the Green for ermine is galay – much like Cecilia’s surname Gallerani. Whatever the reason for its inclusion, the ermine certainly individualises this portrait, making it perhaps the most spectacular of Da Vinci’s remaining works, and a great joy to paint in the Norm-like fashion. All that remains is to see the original in all it’s glory tomorrow… that’s assuming I can get close to it. As with most London blockbusters I am anticipating a packed show with plenty of people encircling the major works on show. I’ve packed my boxing gloves.
Seeing as my collection of Masterpiece Norms is growing (that is, Norm paintings based on old masters), I thought it was only appropriate that they be given frames which befit their traditional beauty, and hence complete the look of the original works. Here then are the frames which I have got my hands on from the likes of amazon.com of all places – beautiful vintage reproductions for no cost at all. I could see these mini-masterpieces fitting in at the National Gallery any day…
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- Will The Lady with an Ermine topple the Mona Lisa as the world’s favourite painting? (telegraph.co.uk)
- You: Landmark Da Vinci exhibition opens in London (france24.com)