Leonardo da Vinci’s Portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci is an oil painting on wood measuring 42 x 37 cm that depicts a beautiful and reserved young woman from Florence. It is believed to have been created between 1474 to 1478 to commemorate Ginevra’s marriage to Luigi di Bernardo Niccolini, which took place when she was only 16 years old.
The portrait showcases themes of beauty, chastity, dignity, and modesty through Ginevra’s subtly modeled facial features and direct gaze. It is the first known three-quarter-view portrait in Italian art that features a subject looking directly at the viewer. Despite her beauty, there is no hint of a smile on Ginevra’s face, which adds to the portrait’s sense of mystery and allure.
The painting is also unique for its two-sided nature, with the back bearing Ginevra’s Latin motto and emblematic portrait with a juniper tree. The juniper bush in the background serves as a symbol of female virtue in Renaissance Italy and echoes Ginevra’s name. The panel was done shortly after her wedding, and Leonardo’s silverpoint drawing of hands is believed to be a study for the missing part of the panel.
Overall, Leonardo da Vinci’s Portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci remains an important piece not just for its historical significance but also as an example of Renaissance portraiture that captures both beauty and mystery in one image.