La Dama con l'ermellino: the union between Naples and Milan

by Francesco Li Volti

The famous "Lady with an Ermine" is a painting by Leonardo da Vinci dated to 1489-90 and is preserved in Krakow, in National Museum. It is certainly one of the most famous paintings by Leonardo in the world and is considered the first portrait of the modern era.

There Lady with an Ermine she is a good-looking woman, portrayed from the waist up. The face is turned three-quarters, not looking at the observer but probably at his beloved. And the beloved in question is not just any one, but Ludovico il Moro, the Duke of Milan. In this painting Leonardo goes beyond the canon of official portraiture. In fact it does not represent the woman in a static and frontal way, but it makes the pose much more dynamic. The face turns to the left, the torso and hands are soft and delicate.

Who is the Lady with an Ermine

The woman portrayed is well documented by ancient sources. Thanks to the sonnet that the poet Bernardo Bellincioni wrote around 1493 dedicated to the beauty of the portrait and the correspondence between Isabella d'Este and Gallerani of 1498, we know that it is Cecilia Gallerani, lover of Ludovico il Moro. The woman was born in 1473 and was the grandson of a Sienese Ghibelline who, to escape persecution by the Guelphs, moved to Milan. At the time Milan welcomed many Ghibellines even though the Guelphs had strong friendships in the Lombard capital. With Il Moro he had a son, Cesare, born in 1491.

Their love story never culminated in a marriage, in fact Ludovico il Moro got married with Beatrice d'Este, even if, the story with the young Cecilia, postponed the wedding by a year (from 1490 to 1491). Cecilia Gallerani will thus be removed from the Doge's Palace forever and taken to another residence where she gave birth to her son. She too will marry in 1492, with the count Ludovico Carminati.

The Order of the Ermine of the Kingdom of Naples

L'Order of the Ermine it was founded by the King of Naples Ferdinand I of Aragon, known as Ferrante d'Aragona, on 29 September 1465, as we learn from the date placed at the end of the constituent chapters signed in Castel Nuovo.

The foundation day was not accidental, as the Order was dedicated to Archangel Michael, a saint very dear to the members. Among the most important personalities who were part of it we can remember: Roberto Sanseverino (the leader who built Palazzo Sanseverino, today the Church of Gesù Nuovo), Ercole d'Este, Duke of Ferrara; Federico di Montefaltra, Duke of Urbino; Alfonso II of Aragon and his son Ferrandino, king of Naples; Galeazzo Sforza, lord of Milan and Ludovico il Moro, who will also become Duke of Bari thanks to the intercession of the King of Naples, Ferrante of Aragon.

La Dama con l & #039; ermine: the union between Naples and Milan
Detail of the ermine

Ludovico il Moro and the Ermine

Ludovico il Moro came to the aid of Ferrante d'Aragona in 1485-1486, when the most influential barons of Naples plotted a conspiracy to stop the modernization work initiated by the king of Naples. For this reason in 1488 Ludovico was awarded the collar of the Ermine, one of the highest Neapolitan honors. Actually Ludovico Sforza aspired to be part of the Order of the Ermine because he was eager to become Duke of Milan, in place of his nephew Gian Galezzo Sforza. Il Moro commissioned a Leonardo da Vinci the painting of Lady with an Ermine in 1488 to see the work finished in 1490. Ludovico's lover brings an ermine with him precisely to seal the intense relationship with Naples.

But when Ferrante d'Aragona sent his niece Isabella to Milan to marry Gian Galeazzo Sforza, this union between the two cities was destroyed. In fact, Ludovico, having taken possession of the Duchy of Milan, forced the couple to flee to Pavia. So Isabella of Aragon requested the intervention of her grandfather Ferrante, who revoked the collar of the Order of the Ermine from Ludovico il Moro, forever breaking the alliance between the two cities.


 The rediscovered gaze of Cecilia Gallerani, Danio Asinari, Cremona, 2020

Neapolitan nobles

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