What the Ermine Saw: The Extraordinary Journey of Leonardo da Vinci’s Most Mysterious Portrait

Doubleday. May 2022. 272p. ISBN 9780385546119. $27. FINE ARTS
Collinsworth (Behaving Badly: The New Morality in Politics, Sex, and Business) takes readers on a time-travel journey across the world and tells the backstory and history of Leonardo da Vinci’s enigmatic painting Lady with an Ermine. Inquisitive and with an eye for social commentary, Collinsworth moves at a dizzying pace: What century is it? Did the war end already? Several existing books also speak to elements about Lady with an Ermine, and the hands it has gone through over time, but they can be quite dry or only give part of the story. Collinsworth brings it all together and makes the story accessible and juicy, reveling in the more sordid details of courtly life and general scandal. Although some readers will recognize Leonardo’s famous portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, young mistress of the Duke of Milan, and her sleek pet, many others will be surprised at how it came to be and all the drama surrounding its survival.
VERDICT Art lovers and history buffs will enjoy this fast-paced, entertaining romp from the Renaissance to the present day, focusing on one painting by one of the world’s most famous, intriguing, and mysterious artists.
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