A French scientist Pascal Cotte has revealed a major discovery about one of Leonardo da Vinci’s world most famous paintings, which sheds new light on his techniques. The ermine is the signature of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous “Lady With an Ermine” – it’s right there in the title, after all. But reflective light technology revealed that the ermine was a later addition; the painting originally showed a woman with her arms lightly folded.
Mr Cotte, a co-founder of Lumiere Technology in Paris, has pioneered this new technique known as Layer Amplification Method (LAM). This technique works by projecting a series of intense lights on to the painting. A camera then takes measurements of the lights’ reflections and from those measurements, Mr Cotte is then able to analyse and reconstruct what has happened between the layers of the paint.
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The ermine is believed to reference Duke Ludovico Sforza, a patron of da Vinci’s. The woman in the painting is Cecilia Gallerani, Sforza’s lover, and the previous two editions of the painting show her without the ermine, and with a smaller ermine. Historians theorize that the final, larger ermine was enhanced to better flatter da Vinci’s patron.
Following the discovery, new theories have now been applied to the well-known portrait, including a suggestion the artist may have introduced the ermine into the painting to symbolise Gallerani’s lover, later enhancing the animal to flatter his patron.
Another theory is that Gallerani asked the artist to add the animal into the painting, so that the Milanese court was made fully aware of her relationship with the Duke.
Mr Cotte said: “The LAM technique gives us the capability to peel the painting like an onion, removing the surface to see what’s happening inside and behind the different layers of paint. We’ve discovered that Leonardo is always changing his mind. This is someone who hesitates – he erases things, he adds things, he changes his mind again and again.”
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