This small painting depicts a side profile portrait of a lady. The young lady is wearing precious jewelry and a head piece with pearls, matching the ones on her necklace. She is wearing an embroidered dress with a red velvet bodice. Her hair is collected, and a strand of hair passes under her chin, which was the trend in the end of the 15th century Milan (such as in the Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci). The painting is translucent and compact, and the lady’s face is caressed by soft and strongly three-dimensional light. A recent cleaning revealed the splendor of the pearls made with determined brushstrokes, whereas the examinations with infrared lights have revealed a subtle and refined design concentrated especially in the face area.
The painting entered Federico Borromeo’s collections between 1607 and 1611 and it was donated to Ambrosiana in 1618 as a “Portrait of a Duchess of Milan up from the middle, by the hand of Leonardo, nine ounces high, and half an arm wide, with black frames”. Already in 1685 an important modification on the inventory changes the attribution from “Leonardo” to “School of Leonardo”, starting the endless debate regarding the attribution, concerning also the real identity of the subject. Starting from the 19th century she was identified as Cecilia Gallerani, lover of Ludovico il Moro, or Bianca Maria Sforza, the daughter of the duke, and the attribution of the work was given to Ambrogio De Predis instead of Leonardo. Longhi and Volpe suggested a painter from the Emilia area, such as Lorenzo Costa or Francesco Francia. Regarding the question, a convincing answer is yet to be found and the research continues.
Beltrami L., Il ritratto di Beatrice d’Este di Leonardo da Vinci alla Biblioteca Ambrosiana di Milano, Milano 1905;
Venturi A., Storia dell’arte italiana. La pittura del Cinquecento, vol. VII, parte IV, Milano 1915, pp. 1020-1021;
Schiapparelli A., Leonardo ritrattista, Milano 1921, pp. 55-93;
Longhi R., Ampliamento nell’Officina ferrarese, Firenze 1940, pp. 17-18;
Berenson, Italian Pictures of the Renaissence, I eII, London 1968, p. 108;
Pedretti C., La “Femme echevellee” de Leonard de Vinci, in “Revue de l’Art”, 25, 1974, pp. 24-34;
Bora G., Due tavole leonardesche. Nuove indagini sul Musico e sul San Giovanni dell’Ambrosiana, Vicenza 1987, p.8;
Marani P.C., in I Leonardeschi. L’eredità di Leonardo in Lombardia, Milano 1998, pp. 25-27;
Rossi M., in Pinacoteca Ambrosiana. Tomo primo-Dipinti dal medioevo alla metà del Cinquecento, Milano 2005, cat. 147, pp. 342-345 (con bibliografia precedente);