Only six cities in the world can claim to house a Da Vinci painting and Krakow is one of them.
The “Lady with Ermine” is displayed in a Krakow museum in the Old Town district of the city. The picture is a highly symbolic portrait of Cecilia Gallerani. Cecilia was the mistress of the powerful Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan.
Although unsigned, experts agree the brush strokes alone make this a definite Leonardo masterpiece. The fact that the great Master himself inadvertently left his smudged fingerprint on the canvas puts it’s authenticity beyond doubt. The portrait was bought in 1800 by a Polish prince, Adam Czartoryski, for his mother Isabella.
She displayed the painting at their stately home in Pulawy but the subject of the portrait was wrongly identified. It was only in the early 20th Century that art historians identified Cecilia Gallerani as the true subject of this masterpiece.
During World War 2, the painting and other treasures were placed in hiding but were eventually found by the Nazis. The portrait was earmarked for Hitler’s private collection and was briefly displayed in Berlin before falling into the possession of the Nazi governor of Poland, Hans Frank, at whose villa it was discovered and reclaimed in 1945.
The picture is displayed at the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow, an unassuming building at the end of Sw. Jana street in the Old Town.
The museum and it’s treasures don’t receive as much publicity as some of Krakow’s other famous sights but maybe this is a blessing. There are not many Da Vinci paintings in the world that you can enjoy without having to jostle your way through a crowd of tourists.
Along with other religious paintings and other artifacts the museum also has a Rembrandt painting. The Czartoryski collection also contained a Raphael masterpiece but this painting was also stolen by the Nazis and sadly never recovered.