The Lady with the Ermine: Part Two

November 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

The recent history of this painting may be even more interesting than the history surrounding its origins. The following comes from Wikipedia, the Huffington Post, Radio Poland and my memories from history class.

The painting was acquired by a Polish prince, Adam Jerzy Czartoryski, and made part of his royal family’s collection.

The painting traveled extensively in the nineteenth century; Princess Czartoryski rescued it in advance of the invading Russian army in 1830 — one of many times the Poles rose up against the Russians. She hid it, then sent it to Dresden and on to the Czartoryski place of exile in Paris, the Hôtel Lambert. The hotel was a center for Polish emigres.  During the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, it was taken from Paris and sent to Poland again. It returned  to Kraków in 1882.

In 1939, almost immediately after the German occupation of Poland, the “Ermine” 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.

These were Frank’s “offices” during World War II. He expropriated the Wawel Castle in Krakow and used them as his headquarters.

History buffs will remember Frank as the man responsible for the slaughtering of millions of Jews, Poles and other “undesirables.” He oversaw the execution of thousands of Polish intellectuals, the ghettoization, deportation and murder of three million Polish Jews and the enslavement of Polish workers who were forced to work for the Nazi regime. Frank was caught in 1945, tried in Nuremberg and hung in 1946.

At the end of the Second World War, Allied troops discovered the Lady with the Ermine at Frank’s country home in Bavaria. It was returned to Poland and has been housed there ever since at its permanent home, the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow. The painting almost didn’t make it out this time for this exhibit because of fear that it would be damaged in transport.

What a history this work of art has had. Too bad Leonardo wasn’t able to embed a recorder in the ermine’s ear. Imagine the stories.


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