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Wreath of Laurel, Palm, and Juniper with a Scroll inscribed Virtutem Forum Decorat [reverse]

Leonardo da Vincic. 1474/1478

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Ginevra de' Benci's portrait is two-sided. This is the back, an emblematic portrait of Ginevra. A scroll bears her Latin motto, meaning "Beauty Adorns Virtue." In the emblem's center, a sprig of juniper (in Italian, ginepro) suggests Ginevra's name, while the encircling laurel and palm symbolize her intellectual and moral virtue. The laurel and palm also happened to be the personal emblem of Bernardo Bembo, Venetian ambassador to Florence, whose deep and abiding relationship with Ginevra is revealed in poems dedicated to them. Their platonic friendship was typical of the era and consistent with Ginevra's elite status as the daughter of a wealthy banker. Infrared examination has revealed Bembo's motto "Virtue and Honor" beneath Ginevra's. So it is likely Bembo who ordered the emblematic painting on the verso of the portrait. It is possible, but so far unproven, that he also commissioned the front.

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  • Title: Wreath of Laurel, Palm, and Juniper with a Scroll inscribed Virtutem Forum Decorat [reverse]
  • Date Created: c. 1474/1478
  • Physical Dimensions: w37 x h42.7 cm (overall)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund
  • External Link: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • Medium: tempera on panel
  • Theme: symbol
  • School: Florentine
  • Provenance: 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;[1] purchased 10 February 1967 by NGA.[2] [1] 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. [2] 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.
  • Artist: Leonardo da Vinci

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