The Last Day of Leonardo’s Lady with the Ermine

November 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

The Bode Museum in Berlin

is part of the famous “Museumsinsel” — a group of world class museums bordered by the Spree River. The Bode is hosting a very popular exhibit: Faces of the Renaissance. The highlight of the exhibit is Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady with the Ermine.

Yesterday was the last day. I had tried to get into the exhibit before, but if you don’t line up early in the morning, it gets sold out. Yesterday I arrived at 8:30. The museum starts selling tickets at 9:45. It was a very long line. Just out of curiosity I went to the front and asked the folks up there when they arrived. One man told me he was there at 6am, but there were already seven people waiting when he arrived.

Hmmm. Berlin is a big art town. Portland holds its own for its size, but Berlin is a big European city with lots of old stuff and lots of people who seem to know about art, or at least pretend that they do.

I am not one of them. I took an architecture class in college and learned about the various movements. But frankly, many times I just don’t know what I’m looking at.

I suspect I’m not alone. I really do wonder about all the people who funnel into these big exhibits. Do they really know what they are looking at? I suppose in some sense it really doesn’t matter as long as you like the picture or at least have a good time looking at it.

I did like this picture, though the band across her head really annoys me. The gaze is great though. Leonardo is really good at that stuff. I read later that there has been a lot of discussion about the animal. I didn’t really know what an ermine was, except it vaguely rings a bell as something people use for fur coats.

I looked it up on Wikipedia. Apparently another name for this animal is the stoat or short-tailed weasel.

It does have a cute aspect to it, though I wouldn’t want to hold one. However if Leonardo were painting today, I doubt he would have chosen this animal. According to Wikipedia: It is listed among the 100 “world’s worst alien invasive species”. And besides, who today would want to be associated with a weasel?

Definitely politically incorrect.

The exhibit’s paintings were made more than 500 years ago. The Catholic Church was super powerful back then. I thought about the abuse scandal that has finally come to light. I bet those things happened back then as well, but of course they were just kept under the table.

In some ways we’ve come a long way since Leonardo painted this picture in 1490. The woman is Cecilia Gallerani and she was Leonardo’s boss’s mistress. The boss was the Duke of Milan.

The girl is supposedly 16 in this picture. A marriage was arranged for her when she was 10, but that was called off. She had a son with the Duke, but he ended up marrying someone else — someone with more noble blood.

So I guess there’s a fair amount of progress that’s been made in that department.

But when you think back to all the religious wars that went on hundreds of years ago, I guess we haven’t really come that far. This Jihad, Holy War stuff is so reminiscent to me of the Crusades or any other “religious” conflict in which people think it’s okay to slaughter others because they feel their god is better than anyone else’s.

So you see in some ways, we haven’t evolved much at all.

Stay tuned for Part Two of this post. It’s about who owned the painting and the tortured history behind that….

§ One Response to The Last Day of Leonardo’s Lady with the Ermine

  • Klaus Engelhardt says:

    My close encounter with the “Lady with the Hermin” occurred 1997: I took a bunch of Lewis and Clark students to Cracow’s Czartoryski Museum, where said Lady normally lives. Our guide and art teacher took the painting actually out of its glass encasing and passed it around among the students. My breath stopped, literally, while I was holding this million-dollar image in my own, hot little hands!

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