A famed Leonardo da Vinci painting stolen from Poland by the Nazis and only returned after the end of the six-year conflict, has gone on display in Germany for the first time since the Second World War.
Da Vinci’s treasured 15th century painting “Lady with an Ermine,” a work that first arrived in Poland around 1800, shows a young woman holding a white ermine – otherwise known as a stoat or short-tailed weasel – and headlines a major exhibition of Renaissance art to open today at Berlin’s Bode Museum.
Along with the Mona Lisa, the work is one of just four paintings of women by the Italian Renaissance master.
In 1939, almost immediately after the German occupation of Poland, the work was seized by the Nazis and sent to the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin.
In 1940 Hans Frank, the Governor General of Poland, requested that it be returned to Kraków, where it hung in his suite of offices. At the end of World War II, “Lady with an Ermine” was discovered by Allied troops in Frank’s country home in Bavaria.
It was returned to Poland and is now housed at the Czartoryski Museum in Kraków.
The culture ministry in Warsaw was initially hostile to the idea of the painting on wood leaving the country, fearing it could be damaged, according to Agence-France Presse.
“But a personal appeal by its owner, Polish aristocrat Prince Adam Karol Czartoryski, convinced the ministry to allow it to go on display in Madrid earlier this year, then Berlin and later London,” the wire service added.
The German press called the loan a gesture of “reconciliation” between Poland and Germany.
Around 1800, the Czartoryski family acquired the 21 x 15 inch portrait painted by da Vinci between 1488 and 1490.
The work is believed to depict Cecilia Gallerani, the mistress of an Italian nobleman, Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan and the son of one of da Vinci’s patrons.
At the time of her portrait, Cecilia was about 16. She was one of a large family, neither rich nor noble. Her father served for a time at the Duke’s court. Cecilia was renowned for her beauty, her scholarship, and her poetry, according to art historians Barbara Fabjan and Pietro C. Marani.
She was betrothed at the age of about 10 to a young nobleman of the house of Visconti but the marriage was called off. Cecilia became the mistress of the Duke and bore him a son, but he chose to marry a girl from a nobler family, Beatrice d’Este.
In 1492, she married count Ludovico Carminati de Brambilla. Cecilia gave birth to four children and died in 1536.
(Above: “Lady with an Ermine,” by Leonardo da Vinci ca. 1488-90, Czartoryski Museum, Kraków.)
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