Ginevra de' Benci, a young Florentine Noblewoman

Leonardo da Vinci, Ginevra de' Benci, c. 1474/1478, oil on panel, National Gallery of Art, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund.

Leonardo da Vinci painted this portrait of Ginevra de' Benci, a young Florentine noblewoman who, at the age of sixteen, married Luigi Niccolini in 1474. The work may have been an engagement or wedding portrait, or it may have been commissioned by Bernardo Bembo, the Venetian Ambassador to Florence and Ginevra's close friend and admirer. On the reverse side of the painting, a wreath of laurel and palm encircles a sprig of juniper and a scroll bears the Latin inscription, "Beauty Adorns Virtue."

 

 

Leonardo da Vinci, Ginevra de' Benci (reverse), c. 1474/1478, oil on panel, National Gallery of Art, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund

The sprig of juniper in the center of the wreath represents Ginevra herself. In Italian, the word for juniper ("ginepro") sounds a lot like her name. The same plant is featured prominently on the other side of this painting. It is a symbol of purity, while the laurel and palm represent intellectual and moral virtue. The Latin inscription "Beauty Adorns Virtue," with the word for beauty encircling the juniper, also reminds viewers that Ginevra de' Benci was a beautiful, intelligent, and virtuous young woman.