Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Woman With an Ermine’ reveals its secrets

A scientist has revealed a new discovery about the Leonardo da Vinci painting "Lady With an Ermine."
(Alik Keplicz / Associated Press)

A 15th century painting by Leonardo da Vinci depicting a woman holding an ermine is the subject of a new study by a scientist who claims that the Renaissance master created multiple versions of the painting, including one without the small mammal.

In a new book published this month in Europe, French scientist Pascal Cotte said that he used imaging technology to explore different layers of the famous painting, which is commonly referred to as “Woman With an Ermine.”

His research shows that Da Vinci created a version in which the female subject isn’t holding anything, according to an article in Le Figaro. Another layer shows her holding a darker version of the small animal.


The finished oil-on-wood painting, which is owned by the Czartoryski Foundation in Poland, shows the woman holding a light-colored ermine in her arms.

In addition, the final version of the artwork features a blue shawl on the woman’s shoulder that wasn’t visible in previous layers.

Cotte, who is an engineer at the company Lumiere Technology, used a special camera and lighting to explore the layers of the painting in a non-invasive way. The scientist has used similar techniques to study the “Mona Lisa.”

One persistent hypothesis surrounding “Woman With an Ermine” is that the female subject of the painting was actually pregnant at the time. “But the examination of the contour of the dress behind the animal rules out this hypothesis,” Cotte told Le Figaro, adding that the dress is too tight.

He said that it is possible the woman was in her first stages of preganancy, or that the ermine perhaps symbolizes a child to come.

Experts believe the woman in the painting was Cecilia Gallerani, a young woman who was the mistress of Ludovico Sforza, a Milanese aristocrat who was Da Vinci’s patron.


“Lumiere on the Lady with an Ermine” was published Sept. 15 in France.

Twitter: @DavidNgLAT