Thought I would write a bit about my recent painting, “Lady With a Sphinx” which I humbly modeled after the Leonardo Da Vinchi painting, “Lady With an Ermine”.
This is my second attempt at a painting modeled after a classic, the first being my version (of Bouguereau’s version) of the Piéta. That one didn’t come out so good. of course it doesn’t help that the originals, in both cases, are amazing. but of course they are. I have always liked “Lady With an Ermine”; the lighting on the figure, the stark background, the lettering in the upper left hand corner, and of course, the Ermine (because what the fuck is an ermine?!). Thankfully, we have wikipedia, and a wealth of probably true information on Da Vinchi’s Original piece (here). to start, an Ermine is “…a stoat in its winter coat…” and ”…[they were] a traditional symbol of purity because it was believed an ermine would face death rather than soil its white coat.” cool right? (a stoat is a type of weasel by the way, I had to look that up too).
I thought it would be fun to redo the piece with a Sphinx, and I happen to know a model I painted for a small piece a few months back (here) that had one — and a particularly weasly one at that. so, perfect!
trying to get the reference photo looking similar was a challenge but an enjoyable one, as I never have a concrete idea of how I want reference to look, so there tends to be a lot of trial and error. this time, I messed with it until the pose and lighting was right, then just took a few hundred pictures there, with very subtle pose and expression changes. I ended up doing a bunch of work in photoshop post as well, especially because we shot the cat first, then worried about the figure — so I had to combine elements from 3 or 4 different shots. I obviously took some liberties with the costume and hairstyle — not exactly because I didn’t care to get that specific, but I didn’t feel those elements were necessities (and i’m no stylist or hairdresser). Margarita also has normal shoulders and collar bones, so the giant-trap/broken-shoulder look the Lady with an Ermine has wasn’t gonna happen.
One interesting aspect I learned during the research (wikipedia, again…hopefully mostly true) is that not only is the black background on the “Lady with an Ermine” not original, but the lettering in the top left corner isn’t either. Conservation is one thing, but adding text to a Da Vinchi?! pretty nuts. Also, whoever added the text, “LA BELE FERONIERE. LEONARD DAWINCI” mistook the subject for the Belle Ferronière, which “…is the Leonardo portrait in the Louvre, whose sitter bears such a close resemblance…”. That piece is also known as Portrait of an Unknown Woman, so when it came to adding text to my version, I went with “LA BELE INCONNU”, roughly translated as “the beautiful unknown”. I decided against writing a Polish phonetical transcription of my own name.