MELZI, Francesco
(b. 1493, Milano, d. 1570, Milano)


Oil on canvas transferred from wood, 76 x 63 cm
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

The model for this painting, formerly thought to have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci, was believed to be a lady from the retinue of King Francis I, Leonardo's last patron. It is now known to have been painted by Francesco Melzi, Leonardo's favourite pupil. Flora, the ancient goddess of vegetation, is depicted with flowers executed with the pedantic precision characteristic of Leonardo's school. Included are symbolic flowers: fragrant jasmine in the right hand speaks of lost chastity; the columbine on which the goddess gazes and her bare breast represent fertility; and the anemones in her lap indicate a return to new life.

The painting of the Roman goddess of flowers, Flora, is directly connected to the Berlin painting of Pomona and Vertumnus. Both reflect the same model by Leonardo, namely the figure of Mary in the Burlington House Cartoon. The painting appears to have remained in the royal collection in France, at least until the mid-16th century. It is possible that a cartoon of the half-length figure also existed, for in addition to some copies at least two almost identical versions of the painting still exist.