Leonardo didn't paint 'Lady With an Ermine'!

November 22 2011

Image of Leonardo didn't paint 'Lady With an Ermine'!

Picture: Princess Czartoryski Foundation

I'm indebted to a reader for alerting me to another piece of incisive art history in the letters pages of our national press. This is from Pauline Wood, of Ibstone, Buckinghamshire, in today's Daily Telegraph:


In the painting Lady with an Ermine, currently on display at the National Gallery’s Leonardo exhibition, the lady’s right hand is out of proportion with the rest of her body (detail, below). If you measure from her wrist to the tip of her longest finger and transfer that measurement to her face, it reaches from her chin almost to the top of her head. My hand only reaches from my chin to the middle of my forehead.

Given Leonardo’s knowledge of anatomy, I find it difficult to believe that he would have made this error. I am not an expert or even an artist, but dare I suggest that this painting may be by one of his students?

In case you too are doubting the picture, go see the Leonardo exhibition, where you will not only understand all about foreshortening, but also see countless preparatory drawings. In fact, Leonardo liked the hand so much he used it twice; it appears in The Last Supper. And before you try putting your hand on your face to see if the Telegraph writer's theory is correct, and that a human hand cannot be larger than a human head, remember that her measurement has been taken from the back of Leonardo's sitter's hand, at the base of the bent wrist. This gives a measurement of at least an inch longer than if you measure from the base of your palm to your fingertip.

Anyway, I feel an Art History News prize coming on - for the most bonkers art historical theory of the year. Any suggestions for the title, or indeed the prize?

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