Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Leonardo: Ginevra de’ Benci

To mark the birth anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci, born Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, in Vinci, Italy, on this day in 1452, here are my photos of one of his lovely paintings, his portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci:


Ginevra de’ Benci (obverse)
Tempera on panel, c. 1474/1478
Leonardo da Vinci (Florentine, 1452-1519)
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Image © Quodlibet 2012.

Ginevra de’ Benci (obverse) (detail)
Tempera on panel, c. 1474/1478
Leonardo da Vinci (Florentine, 1452-1519)
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Image © Quodlibet 2012.

 Leonardo’s portrait may be of the 16-year-old Ginevra de’ Benci (b.1458), daughter of a wealthy Florentine banker, perhaps commissioned to commemorate her betrothal in 1474. Leonardo, too, was young – about 22 years old. What mastery in one so young! According to information at the NGA’s website:

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.

On the reverse of the painting, a motto appears in an elaborate script: VIRTVTEM FORMA DECORAT (“beauty adorns virtue”). Laurel and palm encircle a sprig of juniper

Ginevra de’ Benci (reverse)
Tempera on panel, c. 1474/1478
Leonardo da Vinci (Florentine, 1452-1519)
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Image © Quodlibet 2012.

Ginevra de’ Benci (reverse) (detail)
Tempera on panel, c. 1474/1478
Leonardo da Vinci (Florentine, 1452-1519)
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Image © Quodlibet 2012.



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