LEONARDO da Vinci
(b. 1452, Vinci, d. 1519, Cloux, near Amboise)
La belle Ferronièrec. 1490
Oil on panel, 63 x 45 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris
This portrait has long been a subject of controversy over its attribution to Leonardo. (The attribution to Bernardino de'Conti or Boltraffio can also be found in the literature.) The refinement with which the woman is gently turning her head and in which the eyes pick up and continue this movement clearly show it to be a work by Leonardo. Coarse overpainting of the hair has had an adverse effect on the painting without, however, being able to conceal its high quality.
It has not so far been possible to establish beyond doubt the identity of the person depicted. It is very probable that this enigmatic and highly intelligent young lady was also a noblewoman at the Milanese court. It is even possible that this is another portrait of Cecilia Gallerani seen in the Cracow painting.
The title of the painting is due to an erroneous cataloguing in the French royal collection, when it was mistaken for a portrait of Belle Ferronière, the mistress of King François I. The misunderstanding was increased by the fact that the band on the forehead of the sitter was also named "ferronière" in the 16th century.