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12 Mysterious La Belle Ferronnière Facts

One of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous paintings depicts a woman wearing a piece of jewelry on her forehead, and in this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of La Belle Ferronnière facts.

1. La Belle Ferronnière was painted in the 1490s

The painting of the mysterious woman called “La Belle Ferronnière” was created by the hand of Leonardo da Vinci somewhere in the 1490s, with some sources stating in the year 1495.

Since da Vinci was born in the year 1452, it means he was in his 40s when he painted this mysterious woman.

leonardo da vinci

2. It’s one of the 4 women painted by Leonardo

Even though da Vinci is mostly known as a painter and overall genius, a true polymath of the Renaissance, he completed very few paintings in his lifetime. He was prone to procrastinating as his incredible mind jumped from solving one problem to the next.

He also only completed 5 portraits. One was of a young man who was a musician, and 4 were of women. These include:

3. It’s a rather small painting

This oil on wood painting is a relatively small painting as it has dimensions of 62 × 44 centimeters (24 × 17 inches).

That’s just a tad bit smaller than da Vinci’s most famous work, the Mona Lisa, which has dimensions of 77 × 53 centimeters (30 × 21 inches)

facts about the mona lisa painting

4. It wasn’t always sure if it was painted by da Vinci

While it’s generally accepted that the work is indeed by the hand of Leonardo da Vinci, some historians claim that some of his students might have had a hand in the work as well.

American art historian Bernard Berenson attributed the painting to Bernardino de’ Conti and even said once that “one would regret to have to accept this as Leonardo’s own work.”

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While it’s true that the woman isn’t depicted in the same way as in his other portraits, one can hardly deny the fact that the woman has the same mysterious gaze that only da Vinci could ever capture.

La Belle Ferronnière facts
Detail of the gaze of the woman / Wiki Commons

5. It used to have another name as well

La Belle Ferronnière got its name from the piece of jewelry she is wearing from a thin bracelet on her forehead. This famous Renaissance piece of jewelry was popular back then and called a “Ferronnière.”

The alternative name of the painting is “Portrait of an Unknown Woman,” as one of the most interesting la Belle Ferronnière facts is that we simply don’t know for sure who is depicted!

6. Early sources claimed that the sitter as the mistress of the King of France

The name of the painting was already going around in the 17th century, but initially not because of the piece of jewelry referred to as a ferronnière, but something quite different.

Back then, it was assumed that the woman in the painting was actually the daughter of an ironmonger who was actually the mistress of the King of France, Francis I. The man in question was referred to as “Le Ferron” and that’s how the painting got its name back then.

This turned out to be a false claim but in combination with the jewelry, the name stuck.

7. The painting was once confused with another of Leonardo’s masterpieces

One can hardly deny the resemblance between La Belle Ferronnière and da Vinci’s other famous portrait, Lady with an Ermine. Both women are wearing the exact same piece of jewelry on their foreheads.

Lady with an Ermine was even marked with the name “LA BELE FERONIERE. LEONARD DAWINCI” after it arrived in Poland in the late 18th century and was included in the Czartoryski family collections.

The confusion didn’t really matter as Lady with an Ermine is guaranteed to be a da Vinci painting and was bought by the Polish Government for €100 million and is now one of Poland’s national treasures as well!

Lady with an ermine

8. The real sitter was possibly a mistress as well

So who is La Belle Ferronière?

The most common theory is that the depicted woman is Lucretia Crivelli, a married woman who was the mistress of the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, the patron of Leonardo da Vinci during his period in Milan.

This makes sense because the woman depicted in the Lady with an Ermine painting was identified as Cecilia Gallerani, yet another mistress of the busy Duke of Milan.

Real Lucrezia Crivelli
Profile of a Young Lady: Lucrezia Crivelli / Wiki Commons

9. The identity of the sitter remains unclear until today

While it makes sense that da Vinci possibly painted both of Sforza’s mistresses, another theory about the identity of the woman in the painting might be closer to the truth. It’s assumed that it’s the portrait of the duke’s wife, Beatrice d’Este.

This has been confirmed by the man who examined and restored the Last Supper Painting by da Vinci and concluded that the portrait of a young lady depicting the real Lucrezia Crivelli is not the same woman as the one in La Belle Ferronnière.

This leaves only one option, that the painting is that of Beatrice d’Este, Sforza’s wife, a conclusion also drawn by the National Gallery in London. When it was on display there they mentioned: “possibly depicting Beatrice d’Este, wife of Ludovico Sforza.”

Ludovico Sforza and Beatrice d'este
Sforza (left) and his wife Beatrice (right). / Wiki Commons

10. A copy of the painting resulted in a court case in the early 20th century

Regardless of the mystery surrounding the identity of the woman in the painting, it has been copied several times. One of these copies was once offered to a museum in Kansas as the original. It was, however, identified as a copy, something that made the owner of the copy, Mrs. Andrée Lardoux Hahn, a bit angry.

Well, that was a euphemism, it literally made her fume as she turned the whole thing into a huge court case in the 1920s after the story was published in a newspaper.

One of the most remarkable La Belle Ferronnière facts is that this copy, which they originally got as a wedding present and which they tried to sell for $250,000 to the museum, eventually earned them $60,000 in a settlement.

11. The copy of the painting was sold for $1.5 million USD

To make the story even more fascinating, the painting eventually ended up being sold to an unidentified admirer of Leonardo for $1.5 million USD in 2010! That’s 3 times as much as auction house Sotheby’s assumed the painting would go for.

Yes, the fake da Vinci painting was sold for one and a half million dollars to a Leonardo fan!

Do you think the real painting would be worth more than our $350 million USD estimate of the Ginevra de’ Benci portrait?

12. The original painting by da Vinci is on display at the Louvre

If you want to take a look at the real painting, you should head over to Paris as it’s on display at the Louvre Museum, together with thousands of other pieces of magnificent art!

Fun facts about la belle ferronnière