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The Ermine as a Symbol of Purity
Photo credit: The Fitzwilliam Museum

The Ermine as a Symbol of Purity c.1494

Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519)

The Fitzwilliam Museum

(Born Anchiano or Vinci, 15 April 1452; died chateau of Cloux, nr. Amboise, 2 May 1519). Florentine artist, scientist, and thinker, the most versatile genius of the Italian Renaissance. He was born in or near the small town of Vinci, a day's journey from Florence, the illegitimate son of a notary and a peasant girl. Vasari's biography and other early sources testify that he was blessed with remarkable beauty and charm as well as an extraordinary mind. In 1472 he was enrolled as a painter in the fraternity of St Luke in Florence, after serving an apprenticeship with Verrocchio. Vasari attributed to Leonardo one of the angels in Verrocchio's Baptism of Christ (c.1470, Uffizi, Florence), and the head of the angel on the left of the picture does indeed far surpass its companion in spirituality and beauty of technique, giving the first demonstration of the combined languor and intensity that is so characteristic of Leonardo's work. Verrocchio is said to have been so impressed that he gave up painting to concentrate on sculpture, and it is possible that he was content to entrust the painting side of his business to Leonardo, who was still living in his master's house in 1476.

Text source: The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (Oxford University Press)


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