Book: What the Ermine Saw
Author: Eden Collinsworth
Genre: Nonfiction; Microhistory; Art History
Publisher: Doubleday Books
Publication Date: May 24, 2022
Length: 272 pages
This is an in-depth examination of one of the few remaining paintings of Leonardo da Vinci. Sometime around 1490, Da Vinci was commissioned to paint the portrait of a young woman named Cecilia Gallerani, favorite mistress of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. The result was a striking work titled Lady with an Ermine.
I’m a sucker for a good microhistory and this one was very well done. The author describes the painting itself in great detail, but also brings in the backstories of Leonardo da Vinci, the woman who sat for the portrait, and the Milanese duke who commissioned it. The story doesn’t end there, though. The author also traces the painting’s journey from Renaissance Italy to divided Poland to Nazi possession in WWII and beyond.
Side Note: The people and history around this painting were absolutely bananas! I still haven’t quite wrapped my head around the death of Ludovico Sforza’s wife, Beatrice. Meanwhile, Izabela Czartoryska might be my new hero. Or possibly antihero. That woman was a firecracker who was determined to live her best life on her own terms no matter what. Also, the painting itself just casually disappeared for over 200 years. Like I said, Bananas!