Ginevra de' Benci
|Artist||Leonardo da Vinci|
|Type||Oil on panel|
|Dimensions||38.1 cm × 37 cm (15.0 in × 15 in)|
|Location||National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.|
Ginevra de’ Benci (born c. 1458) was an aristocrat from fifteenth-century Florence, admired for her intelligence by Florentine contemporaries. She is the subject of a portrait painting by Leonardo da Vinci. The oil-on-wood portrait was acquired by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., United States, in 1967, for US$5 million paid to the Princely House of Liechtenstein, a record price at the time, from the Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund. It is the only painting by Leonardo on public view in the Americas.
It is known that Leonardo painted a portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci in 1474, painted in Florence possibly to commemorate her marriage that year to Luigi di Bernardo Niccolini at the age of 16. According to Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Artists (second edition, 1568), however, Ginevra was not the daughter of Amerigo de’ Benci, but his wife. The painting’s imagery and the text on the reverse of the panel support the identification of this picture. Directly behind the young lady in the portrait is a juniper tree. The reverse of the portrait is decorated with a juniper sprig encircled by a wreath of laurel and palm and is memorialized by the phrase VIRTVTEM FORMA DECORAT ("beauty adorns virtue"). The Italian word for juniper is "ginepro", which suggests that the juniper motif was used here as a symbolic pun on Ginevra’s name. This pun is not supported by any contemporary historical source, however, and the juniper stood as a symbol of sorrow, pain, and loss in the whole of the Middle Ages. Therefore, the juniper frequently was used in portrait paintings of widows. According to Maike Vogt-Luerssen the woman depicted is not Ginevra de’ Benci but Fioretta Gorini, the widow of the murdered Giuliano de’ Medici. The painting was made by Leonardo in 1479/80.
The Latin motto VIRTVTEM FORMA DECORAT, on the reverse of the portrait, also is understood as symbolizing her intellectual and moral virtue, while the sprig of juniper ("ginepro"), encircled by laurel and palm, suggests Ginevra's name. The laurel and palm are in the personal emblem of Bernardo Bembo, Venetian ambassador to Florence, whose platonic relationship with Ginevra is revealed in poems dedicated to them. Infrared examination has revealed Bembo's motto "Virtue and Honor" beneath Ginevra's. So it is likely Bembo ordered the emblematic painting on the verso of the portrait. The researcher and cryptographer Carla Glori, in her book “Enigma Leonardo:decifrazioni e scoperte” by using a scientific method to decipher the message encrypted by the motto VIRTUTEM FORMA DECORAT, discovered a latin sentence with the very same alphabetical letters, having a meaning referable to the portrait and to the biography of Ginevra Benci.
The portrait is one of the highlights of the National Gallery of Art, and is admired by many for its portrayal of Ginevra's temperament. Ginevra is beautiful, but austere; she has no hint of a smile and her gaze, although forward, seems indifferent to the viewer. A strip from the bottom of the painting was removed in the past, presumably owing to damage, and Ginevra's arms and hands were lost. Using the golden section, Susan Dorothea White has drawn an interpretation of how her arms and hands may have been positioned in the original. The adaptation is based on images of hands by Leonardo that are thought to have been executed as studies for this painting.
According to Giorgio Vasari, Ginevra de’ Benci was also included in the fresco by Domenico Ghirlandaio of the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth in the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, but it is now believed that Vasari made a mistake and that Ghirlandaio painted Giovanna Tornabuoni.
As a woman of renowned beauty, Ginevra de' Benci was also the subject of ten poems written by members of the Medici circle, Cristoforo Landino and Alessandro Braccesi, and of two sonnets by Lorenzo de' Medici himself.
- "Ginevra de’ Benci". National Gallery of Art. D.C. Retrieved 7 August 2011.
- "Leonardo da Vinci's Ginevra de' Benci". National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
- Giorgio Vasari: Lives of the Artists, Volume I. 1987, ISBN 0-14-044500-5, p. 266.
- Maike Vogt-Luerssen: Die Sforza III: Isabella von Aragon und ihr Hofmaler Leonardo da Vinci, 2010, ISBN 978-3-8391-7110-3, p. 76.
- Carla Glori-Ugo Cappello:"Enigma Leonardo:decifrazioni e scoperte, Volume I" Cappello Publisher, Savona 2010, ISBN 978-88-96552-02-5, PP.293-300
- Brown (2003)
- Hand, J. O. (2004). National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. New York: National Gallery of Art, Washington. ISBN 0-8109-5619-5. p. 28.
- Brown, David Alan (2003). Virtue and Beauty: Leonardo's Ginevra de' Benci and Renaissance Portraits of Women. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691114569.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Portrait of Ginevra de' Benci by Leonardo da Vinci.|
- Website of the National Gallery of Art, where Ginevra de' Benci may be viewed online
- Leonardo da Vinci: anatomical drawings from the Royal Library, Windsor Castle, exhibition catalog fully online as PDF from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which contains material on Ginevra de' Benci (see index)