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, 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.
Since the late eighteenth century, the High Renaissance has been taken to refer to a short (c. 30-year) period of exceptional artistic production in the Italian states, principally Rome, capital of the Papal States, under Pope Julius II. Assertions about where and when the period begins and ends vary, but in general the best-known exponents of painting of the High Renaissance, include Leonardo da Vinci, early Michelangelo and Raphael. Extending the general rubric of Renaissance culture, the visual arts of the High Renaissance were marked by a renewed emphasis upon the classical tradition, the expansion of networks of patronage, and a gradual attenuation of figural forms into the style later termed Mannerism.
The paintings in the Vatican by Michelangelo and Raphael are said by some scholars such as Stephen Freedberg to represent the culmination of High Renaissance style in painting, because of the ambitious scale of these works, coupled with the complexity of their composition, closely observed human figures, and pointed iconographic and decorative references to classical antiquity, can be viewed as emblematic of the High Renaissance. In more recent years, art historians have characterised the High Renaissance as a movement as opposed to a period, one amongst several different experimental attitudes towards art in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. This movement is variously characterised as conservative; as reflecting new attitudes towards beauty; a deliberate process of synthesising eclectic models, linked to fashions in literary culture; and reflecting new preoccupations with interpretation and meaning .
E-mail National Gallery of Art The CollectionHighlightsSearch the CollectionArtistsExhibitionsCurrentUpcomingOn TourPastEducationTeachersFamiliesNGAkidsTeensAdultsInterns and FellowsConservationProjectsPublicationsResourcesResearchCASVAPublicationsMake an AppointmentGallery ArchivesLibraryCalendarFilm ProgramsConcertsJazz ProgramsGallery TalksLecturesGuided ToursFamily ActivitiesChildren and Teen FilmsVisitMaps & HoursTours & GuidesAccessibilityCafésShopsMuseum PoliciesIce RinkCopyist ProgramShopNational Gallery of Art :: The Collection :: Ginevra de' Benci [obverse]Enter your search terms Sign OutHighlightLeonardo da VinciItalian, 1452 - 1519Ginevra de' Benci [obverse]c. 1474/1478oil on paneloverall (original panel only): 38.1 x 37 cm (15 x 14 9/16 in.) overall (thickness of original panel): 1.1 cm (7/16 in.) overall (with addition at bottom edge): 42.7 x 37 cm (16 13/16 x 14 9/16 in.) overall (thickness of addition at bottom edge): 1.9 cm (3/4 in.)framed: 59.7 x 57.8 x 3.8 cm (23 1/2 x 22 3/4 x 1 1/2 in.)Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund1967.6.1.aOn Viewzoomdownloadshareadd to favoritesOverviewExplore This WorkProvenanceExhibition HistoryBibliographyOverview
She was the daughter of a wealthy Florentine banker, and her portrait—the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas—was probably commissioned about the time of her marriage at age 16. Leonardo himself was only about six years older. The portrait is among his earliest experiments with the new medium of oil paint; some wrinkling of the surface shows he was still learning to control it. Still, the careful observation of nature and subtle three–dimensionality of Ginevra's face point unmistakably to the new naturalism with which Leonardo would transform Renaissance painting. Ginevra is modeled with gradually deepening veils of smoky shadow—not by line, not by abrupt transitions of color or light.
Other features of Ginevra's portrait reveal young Leonardo as an innovator. He placed her in an open setting at a time when women were still shown carefully sheltered within the walls of their family homes, with landscapes glimpsed only through open windows. The three–quarter pose, which shows her steady reserve, is among the first in Italian portraiture, for either sex.
At some time in the past, probably because of damage, the panel was cut down by a few inches along the bottom, removing Ginevra's hands. A drawing by Leonardo survives that suggests their appearance—lightly cradled at her waist and holding a small sprig, perhaps a pink, a flower commonly used in Renaissance portraits to symbolize devotion or virtue. Ginevra's face is framed by the spiky, evergreen leaves of a juniper bush, the once–brighter green turned brown with age. Juniper refers to her chastity, the greatest virtue of a Renaissance woman, and puns her name. The Italian for juniper is ginepro.
The vast majority of female portraits were commissioned on one of two occasions: betrothal or marriage. Wedding portraits tend to be made in pairs, with the woman on the right side. Since Ginevra faces right, this portrait is more likely to have commemorated her engagement. Her lack of obvious finery, however, is somewhat surprising. Jewels, luxurious brocades, and elaborate dresses were part of dowry exchanges and displayed a family’s wealth.
Marks and Labels
Reigning Princes of Liechtenstein in Vienna and later Vaduz, principality of Liechtenstein, by 1733, the date of a red wax seal, bearing the Liechtenstein arms, on the reverse; purchased 10 February 1967 by NGA.
 The name "Ginevra" was too common in the Renaissance to assume with Jean Adhémar ("Une galerie de portraits italiens à Amboise en 1500," Gazette des Beaux Arts 86, no. 1281 (October 1975): 100), followed by Fern Rusk Shapley (Catalogue of the Italian Paintings, 2 vols., Washington, D.C., 1979: 1:251-255) that a portrait of a lady so named in an inventory made at Amboise in 1500 refers to Leonardo's painting, which the early sources, to the contrary, place in Florence. It is not known whether the painting belonged to the Benci family in the early sixteenth century, as Antonio Billi (Il Libro di Antonio Billi esistente in due copie nella Biblioteca nazionale di Firenze, ed. Carl Frey, Berlin, 1892: 51), who presumably saw it, does not give its location. The picture may well have entered the Liechtenstein Collection by 1712 or earlier, as the 1733 seal designated works that were part of the "Fideikommissgalerie" of Prince Johann Adam (1657-1712), held in trust but not personally collected by the then-reigning Prince Josef Wenzel (1696-1772) (see Reinhold Baumstark, "Collecting Paintings," in Liechtenstein, The Princely Collections, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1985: 183-185). The founder of the picture gallery at Feldsberg was Prince Karl Eusebius (1611-1684), a distinguished connoisseur who liked small cabinet-type paintings. He was succeeded by his son, the already mentioned Prince Johann Adam (1657-1712), also an avid collector who, however, preferred the Italian Baroque. Either could have obtained the painting in Florence, where both traveled (Olga Raggio, "The Collection of Sculpture," in Liechtenstein, The Princely Collections, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1985: 63-65). Leonardo's authorship, in any case, came to be forgotten, as the panel was attributed to Lucas Cranach in the Liechtenstein Catalogue of 1780.
 During World War II the picture was transferred, with the rest of the collection, from the Garden Palace in Vienna to the castle at Vaduz in the principality of Liechtenstein, and from there it was acquired from Prince Franz Joseph II for the National Gallery.
Exhibition History1948Meisterwerke aus den Sammlungen des Fürsten von Lichtenstein, Kunstmuseum, Lucerne, 1948, no. 103.1951[Exhibition of paintings lent by the Prince of Liechtenstein], National Gallery, London, 1951, no cat.1969In Memoriam, Ailsa Mellon Bruce, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1969, unnumbered checklist.2001Virtue and Beauty: Leonardo's 'Ginevra de' Benci' and Renaissance Portraits of Women, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2001-2002, no. 16, color repro.Bibliography1896Bode, Wilhem von. Die Fürstlich Liechtenstein'sche Galerie in Wien. Vienna, 1896: 63-65, no. 32, plate.1967Walker, John. "Ginevra de'Benci by Leonardo da Vinci." Studies in the History of Art 1 (1967): 1-38.1968European Paintings and Sculpture: Illustrations (Companion to the Summary Catalogue, 1965). Washington, 1968: 65, no. 2326, repro.1969Brachert, Thomas. "A Distinctive Aspect in the Painting Technique of the Ginevra de'Benci and of Leonardo's Early Works." Studies in the History of Art (1969-70): 84-104, repro.1975European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 192, repro.1976Alsop, Joseph. The Rare Art Traditions: The History of Art Collecting and Its Linked Phenomenda Wherever These Have Appeared. Bollingen series 35, no. 27. New York, 1976: 17, fig. 5.1978King, Marian. Adventures in Art: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1978: 23, pl. 3 and 4.1979Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1979: I:251-255, II:pl. 171, 171A1979Watson, Ross. National Gallery of Art Washington. New York, 1979: 33, color pl. 16.1984Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 98, no. 63, color repro., 101.1985European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 226, repro.1990Lippincott, Kristen. "The Genesis and Significance of the Fifteenth-century Italian Impresa." In Chivalry in the Renaissance. Edited by Sydney Anglo. Woodbridge, UK and Rochester, NY, 1990: 73.1991Gibson, Eric. "Leonardo's 'Ginevra de' Benci:' The Restoration of a Renaissance Masterpiece." Apollo 133 (March 1991): 161-165.1991Gingold, Diane J. and Elizabeth A.C. Weil. The Corporate Patron. New York, 1991: 10, color repro.1991Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1991-1992: no. 169, repro. (the painting was not in the exhibition).1991Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 258, 262, color repros.1992Bull, David. "Two Portraits by Leonardo: Ginevra de'Benci and the Lady with an Ermine." Artibus et Historiae 25 (1992): 67-83, repro.1992National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 20, repro.1997Goffen, Rona. Titian's Women, 1997, no. 31, repro.1998Hohenstatt, Peter. Leonardo da Vinci: 1452-1519. Translated by Fiona Hulse. Cologne, 1998: 28, 32, repros.2000Kirsh, Andrea, and Levenson, Rustin S. Seeing Through Paintings: Physical Examination in Art Historical Studies. Physical Examination in Art Historical Studies, vol. 1. New Haven, 2000: 134-135, color fig. 125-126.2002Nutall, Paula. "'Lacking Only Breath': Italian Responses to Netherlandish Portraiture." In Borchert, Till-Holger. The Age of Van Eyck: The Mediterranean World and Early Netherlandish Painting 1430-1530. Exh. cat. Groeningemuseum, Bruges, 2002. London, 2002: 202, 207 fig. 230.2003Boskovits, Miklós, David Alan Brown, et al. Italian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. The Systematic Catalogue of the National Gallery of Art. Washington, 2003: 357-369, color repro.2004Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 28-31, no. 22, color repros.2006Hartt, Frederick and David G. Wilkins. History of Italian Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture. 6th ed. Upper Saddle River, 2006: 453-454, color fig. 16.14.2006Rosenberg, Pierre. Only in America: One Hundred Paintings in American Museums Unmatched in European Collections. Milan, 2006: 16, 17, color fig. 14.2009Fagnard, Laure. Léonard de Vinci en France: collections et collectionneurs (XVème – XVIIème siècles). Rome: Bretschneider, 2009: 73.2009Gariff, David, Eric Denker, and Dennis P. Weller. The World's Most Influential Painters and the Artists They Inspired. Hauppauge, NY, 2009: 30, color repro.2009Radke, Gary M., et al. Leonardo da Vinci and the Art of Sculpture. Exh. cat. High Museum of Art, Atlanta; The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. New Haven and London, 2009: 39-40, fig. 16, 61 n. 73.2011Rubin, Patricia. "Understanding Renaissance Portraits." In The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini ed. Keith Christiansen and Stefan Weppelmann. Exh. cat. Berlin 2011. New York, 2011: 17, color fig. 7.2011Syson, Luke. "The Rewards of Service: Leonardo da Vinci and the Duke of Milan." In Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan. Exh. cat. London, 2011. London, 2011: 47-48, color fig. 31.2012Dempsey, Charles. The Early Renaissance and Vernacular Culture. Cambridge, Mass.: vii, 36-42, 101, fig. 4.2012Elam, Caroline. "Art and Cultural Identity in Lorenzo de' Medici's Florence." In Florence (Artistic Centers of the Italian Renaissance) edited by Francis Ames-Lewis. Cambridge, 2012: xii, 5, 238, color pl. 30.2012Wise, Michael Z. "The Prince's Treasures." ArtNews 111, no. 4 (April 2012): 95.
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (Italian pronunciation: [leoˈnardo da vˈvintʃi]pronunciation (help·info); April 15, 1452 – May 2, 1519, Old Style) was an Italian Renaissancepolymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. His genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance humanist ideal. Leonardo has often been described as the archetype of the Renaissance Man, a man of "unquenchable curiosity" and "feverishly inventive imagination". He is widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived. According to art historian Helen Gardner, the scope and depth of his interests were without precedent and "his mind and personality seem to us superhuman, the man himself mysterious and remote". Marco Rosci states that while there is much speculation about Leonardo, his vision of the world is essentially logical rather than mysterious, and that the empirical methods he employed were unusual for his time.
Leonardo was, and is, renowned primarily as a painter. Among his works, the Mona Lisa is the most famous and most parodied portrait and The Last Supper the most reproduced religious painting of all time, with their fame approached only by Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam. Leonardo's drawing of the Vitruvian Man is also regarded as a cultural icon, being reproduced on items as varied as the euro coin, textbooks, and informal garments. Perhaps fifteen of his paintings survive, the small number because of his constant, and frequently disastrous, experimentation with new techniques, and his chronic procrastination.[nb 2] Nevertheless, these few works, together with his notebooks, which contain drawings, scientific diagrams, and his thoughts on the nature of painting, compose a contribution to later generations of artists rivalled only by that of his contemporary, Michelangelo.
Raphael was enormously productive, running an unusually large workshop, and despite his death at 37, a large body of his work remains. Many of his works are found in the Vatican Palace, where the frescoed Raphael Rooms were the central, and the largest, work of his career. The best known work is The School of Athens in the Vatican Stanza della Segnatura. After his early years in Rome much of his work was executed by his workshop from his drawings, with considerable loss of quality. He was extremely influential in his lifetime, though outside Rome his work was mostly known from his collaborative printmaking. After his death, the influence of his great rival Michelangelo was more widespread until the 18th and 19th centuries, when Raphael's more serene and harmonious qualities were again regarded as the highest models. His career falls naturally into three phases and three styles, first described by Giorgio Vasari: his early years in Umbria, then a period of about four years (from 1504–1508) absorbing the artistic traditions of Florence, followed by his last hectic and triumphant twelve years in Rome, working for two Popes and their close associates.
Raphael was born in the small but artistically significant Central Italian city of Urbino in the Marche region, where his father Giovanni Santi was court painter to the Duke. The reputation of the court had been established by Federico III da Montefeltro, a highly successful condottiere who had been created Duke of Urbino by the Pope—Urbino formed part of the Papal States—and who died the year before Raphael was born. The emphasis of Federico's court was rather more literary than artistic, but Giovanni Santi was a poet of sorts as well as a painter, and had written a rhymed chronicle of the life of Federico, and both wrote the texts and produced the decor for masque-like court entertainments. His poem to Federico shows him as keen to show awareness of the most advanced North Italian painters, and Early Netherlandish artists as well. In the very small court of Urbino he was probably more integrated into the central circle of the ruling family than most court painters.
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (Urbino, March 28 or April 6 1483 – Rome, April 6 1520) better known simply as Raphael, was an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance. His work is admired for its clarity of form and ease of composition and for its visual achievement of the Neoplatonic ideal of human grandeur. Together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, he forms the traditional trinity of great masters of that period. Raphael was enormously productive, running an unusually large workshop, and despite his death at 37, a large body of his work remains. Many of his works are found in the Apostolic Palace of The Vatican, where the frescoed Raphael Rooms were the central, and the largest, work of his career. The best known work is The School of Athens in the Vatican Stanza della Segnatura...
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