A painting by Da Vinci that survives pandemics, fires, floods and banditry

A painting by Da Vinci that survives pandemics, fires, floods and banditry

Its location remained unknown for two centuries


Monday – 22 Shawwal 1443 AH – 23 May 2022 AD Case no. [
15882]


Picture “A lady with a bench”

Cammy Brothers * Translated by Saad Al-Bazghi

Although “Mona Lisa” is the most famous painting of the famous Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci, it may not be more exciting, more distinctive or beautiful. It may not even be his best painting. A strong contender in this latter category is the painting “A Lady with a Bench” (c. 1490); The lady known as a Milanese noblewoman is Cecilia Gallerani and was probably 16 when she sat down to paint her portrait.
Unlike the Mona Lisa, in which da Vinci used the blur technique known as “sfumato” (accuracy in degrees of change), the “Lady” painting is characterized by clarity in drawing Cecilia’s features. Her expression is not so mysterious – as the Mona Lisa is commonly described – so much focused. She looks away from the rubber side with a calm, steady, intelligent and motivated look. Her features are ordinary and beautiful, her modest dress. She wears a blue dress with a limited amount of embellishment on her sleeves; A single string of beads hangs from her neck and a thin black ribbon runs along her forehead. The most unusual element of the painting is the small animal she holds in her hands, a white needle that mimics the expression of her face and holds it in her elbow petting her with her elegant hand.
In her book What Stoker Saw: The Strange Journey of Leonardo da Vinci’s Most Mysterious Portrait by Leonardo da Vinci, Eden Collinsworth describes the circular journey that took the 21- to 15-inch wooden panel from 15th-century Leonardo’s studio to the Museum National. in Krakow, Poland.
The tale begins with an introduction to Cecilia, a young and highly educated mistress of Duke Ludovico Sforza. She resided in Castelo Sforzska even after the Duke’s marriage to Beatrice d’Este in 1491, but the Duke’s wife forced him to leave. Although the portrait accompanied Cecilia when she left the palace (probably because Beatrice did not like to see it), it was borrowed from the famous collector of paintings, Isabella d’Este, Beatrice’s sister, Collinsworth tells us, in 1498.
For two centuries after its transfer, the location of the painting remained unknown until it was purchased in 1800 by Adam Jerzy, son of Polish Princess Isabella Dorota Czartoriska. In Italy, where he was appointed by the Russian tsar, Jerzy did not find much to spend his time, so he started buying Italian art for the family collection. The fate of the Lady then clashed with that of Poland, and the tale told by Collinsworth becomes a national drama when the painting becomes part of the diplomatic chaos between Poland and Russia. The painting eventually returned to the Tzartorisian collection, where it remained until the outbreak of World War II.
Among the delights you find in Ms. Collinsworth’s book is the group of kind and compassionate women who carve out their public identity and personality to achieve their goals. Isabella d’Este was neither glamorous nor super rich, yet she became a leading collector of Italian art. Princess Tzartoriska achieved many of her goals through sexual diplomacy, attracting strong men as lovers and allies, a method to which her husband was apparently open.
In the chapters dealing with the disappearance of painting, Ms. Collinsworth focuses on the intimate relationships of her heroines. Readers may find the details here ridiculous or worthless – or feel impatient waiting to get back to the painting itself. An author’s imaginative energy Sometimes one thinks it would be better to write a historical novel, given his penchant for sensational details that is hard to believe. In her account of Beatrice Sforza’s reaction to the news of the Duke’s affair, the author writes that the Duchess “found anesthesia and comforting sex at noisy parties – in that sex it was the only thing she could not think of for long. whether sex was a coping mechanism or a blind impulse to punish oneself for the pain caused by others, his practice became insane and personal evil persisted and it crashed into a dizzying practice overnight Here, as in other places, the risk of falling into a historical contradiction appears high.In another example, the author imagines how the Duke could justify his betrayal, not with “the weakness of character on his part, so as with the hatred of Beatrice’s many emotional demands. “He expresses a certain contempt for the” stubborn observance of facts “of art historians.
The closer the narrative is to the present, the fewer are the author’s improvements. Perhaps as a result, the last chapter of the book, which shows the Nazis’ connection to the “lady,” is stronger than any other. Here we meet art historian Rose Falland and learn about her courageous efforts in “Occupied Paris” to find works of art stolen by the Nazis. In this grim last part, we also learn how attached a Nazi leader was to Leonardo’s portrait when he hung the painting on his desk while overseeing the systematic killing of Polish Jews.
With the recent emergence of interest in Leonardo as an engineer, inventor and scientist, it is good to see interest return to his work as a painter, as in the case of Francesca Fiorani’s book Shadow Painting: How Leonardo Made Use of Science (2020) . However, Ms. Collinsworth, a former communications executive whose books include titles such as Bad Behavior: New Ethics in Politics, Gender, and Business (2017), does not bother herself with the characteristics or character of the portrait. Readers hoping to find here a clear explanation of Leonardo’s portraiture skills, his artistic techniques, or his influence on his contemporaries and later generations, will be disappointed. Instead, Ms. Collinsworth tells the story of a painting of extraordinary beauty over time. The result is an often compelling, sometimes upside-down, sometimes fascinating tale of adventurous princes, dukes and women, which eventually leads to the sudden conclusion that the painting should remain in Krakow.
It is nothing short of a miracle that works of art dating back 500 years ago still exist today, not to mention the delicate and sought-after works. “During the four hundred years before Germany invaded Poland,” says Ms Collinsworth, “A Lady with a stomach survived plagues, fires, floods, greed, banditry, old grudges, revenge and bombs.”
She was trapped on a horse and traveled by carriage, possibly by boat, and of course by truck and car during overnight escapes. ” In her account of the painting, Ms. Collinsworth proves that she herself is a skilled portraitist. But as her book unfolds the story of how painting has been wonderfully saved over the centuries, What Stoker Saw leaves unanswered the question of why it was so important to them all for so long.
* From the Wall Street Journal.


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