In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of facts about Ginevra de Benci, one of the ultimate masterpieces of this remarkable Italian polymath.
1. It was painted in Leonardo da Vinci’s early 20’s
It’s not exactly sure when Leonardo da Vinci painted the portrait of Ginevra de Benci, but historians estimate that it was painted between 1474 and 1478.
Considering the fact that da Vinci was born in the year 1453, this means he was just in his early twenties when creating this masterpiece and far from the Renaissance legend that he would eventually become.
This also means it was painted nearly 30 years before his most famous work, the Mona Lisa Painting on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris, which he started in the year 1503.
2. It’s a rather small painting
One of the most remarkable facts about Ginevra de’ Benci is that this oil on wood painting is actually pretty small, as it has only dimensions of 38.1 × 37 centimeters (15.0 × 15 inches).
To give a comparison, this is only just half the size of the Mona Lisa which has dimensions of 77 × 53 centimeters (30× 21 inches) and is also a bit smaller than Lady with an Ermine which measures 54 × 39 centimeters (21 × 15 inches).
3. It depicts a young woman of a rich Florentine family
The subject of the painting is a young woman named Ginevra de Benci (1457-1521) who was a member of a rich Florentine merchant family. They had good connections with the Medici family as well, who ruled over the Republic of Florence in the 15th century.
This also means that she was in her late teens when the painting was created, probably around the age of 16.
4. It was probably painted to commemorate her engagement
There weren’t too many reasons to commission the portrait of a young woman. It was either to commemorate an engagement or a wedding. if it were for a wedding, the woman would be accompanied by her husband and she would be facing to the left while seated at the right.
The fact that she is looking towards the right, it’s most probably for her engagement with Luigi di Bernardo Niccolini, whom she married at the age of 16.
5. The shrub in the background has more than 1 meaning
The shrub, which decorates the background of the painting, is called a “juniper” and wasn’t painted by da Vinci by accident. This plant represented female virtue in the Renaissance in Italy.
The Italian word for this plant is “ginepro,” which refers to the name of the woman, Ginevra.
6. The quote at the back of the painting compliments the woman
One of the most fascinating facts about Ginevra de Benci is that Leonardo da Vinci also included this juniper at the back of the painting, adorned with laurels and palms.
The quote reads “Virtvtem Forma Decorat,” which is Latin for “Virtue Adorns Beauty,” referring to Ginevra’s chastity.
7. Another man’s motto is beneath that of Ginevra’s
An infrared examination of the painting has uncovered that there’s another quote below the one clear to the visible eye. This quote reads “Virtue and Honor” and is the personal motto of Bernardo Bembo, a Florentine diplomat, and friend of Ginevra.
What’s remarkable is that the palm and laurel are also in the personal emblem of Bembo, which might suggest that he is the one who actually commissioned the painting.
8. Ginevra had more than just one admirer
Ginevra was well renowned for her beauty and intelligence and had more than just one admirer. Apart from Bernardo Bembo, Lorenzo de’ Medici, Alessandro Braccesi, and Christoforo Landino, all dedicated poems to her.
Ginevra shed tears as you go, Bembo.Poem by Alessandro Bracessi.
May she desire long delays and
Beseech the Gods above that
Every difficulty may hinder your journey.
And may she wish that the kindly stars
With adverse winds and heavy storms
Prevent your departure
9. Why does Ginevra de Benci look so sad?
Even though the painting was commissioned to wish the young woman well with her upcoming marriage, there was most probably another reason, especially since we can assume it was commissioned by one of her admirers.
While this is speculation, the reason she looks so sad is most probably because she didn’t look forward to getting married and lose her virginity, because she didn’t get married to her true lover.
Cryptographer Carla Glori managed to decipher 50 phrases that were signed with “VINCI” by adding the words “VIRTUTEMFORMADECORAT + IUNIPERUS.” The result was a story unfolding of a young woman who was forced to marry against her will while she was actually in love with another man.
The anagrams also refer to her real lover as being Bernardo Bembo, the man who apparently commissioned the painting, so it’s fair to draw the conclusion that this is the reason that she looks so sad.
10. Ginevra lost her arms and hands over the centuries
At some unknown moment, the lower part of the painting was removed. This means that Leonardo da Vinci painted the woman with arms and hands but this part probably got damaged.
Many attempts have been made to reconstruct the original painting, including the lower part, just as how the Mona Lisa looks.
11. It’s the only da Vinci painting in the United States
The painting was in the possession of the Princely Family of Liechtenstein in the 1960s, but the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. managed to acquire it in the year 1967.
until today, Ginevra de Benci remains the only Leonardo da Vinci painting on display in the United States and all of the Americas!
And yes, the painting is really one of the highlights of the entire museum which holds a collection of over 75,000 items!
12. It was bought for a record amount of $5 million in the 1960s
The museum had to pay $5 million USD, which they did with the help of the Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, to bring da Vinci’s masterpiece to the United States. That’s the equivalent of nearly $40 million USD today!
Today, though, its value is estimated to be about $350 million USD, which pretty much means they got a pretty good deal while purchasing this painting!