Portrait Of A Young Woman

This painting is listed because it is so often attributed to Leonardo though it lacks any of the characteristics of his work. He is not known to have drawn subjects in profile and certainly avoided showing his subjects as harsh, cold and stiff like in this painting. The background, plain black and without detail, is not typical Leonardo at all; it is so dark that the shape of the back of the head and the shoulder outline are almost lost. On top of this is the issue of the jewellery; Leonardo's portraits generally used a minimum of decoration, with his most famous painting, the Mona Lisa, using none. 

Historians have long agreed that it is more likely this was painted by Ambrogio de Predis around 1495-1500, the period when he was officially partner or contractor to Leonardo. At this same time he may also have been a pupil, and inspired by Leonardo's work, with the result that appears pictured below. With Leonardo's guidance Ambrogio de Predis managed to produce his best two paintings, a portrait of Bartolommeo Archinto, which today resides in the National Gallery, London, and the profile we have here. Once separated from Leonardo, Predis's skill declined severely and little of interest was produced. 

Portrait Of A Young Woman -- Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan
Portrait Of A Young Woman
Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan

Having said that, it is likely Leonardo had a small hand in this, maybe touching up details like the head-dress, pearls and ribbons. It is noticeable that these items are painted with particular skill and Leonardo is known for his precise painting of knots, something which lends credence to the suggestion he was involved with this work. A suggestion of particular interest is that this portrait seems to have been painted as much to display the circlet, hair net and necklace, as to achieve a likeness of the sitter. Some experts even suggest that Leonardo may have made these pieces himself, along with the shoulder decoration, for the marriage fête of the sitter, Beatrice D'Este.

In the court of the Sforzas, Beatrice was the fifteen-year-old child wife of the usurper Ludovico. Leonardo is said to have organised the wedding between Beatrice and forty-year-old Ludvovico which demonstrates how highly he was held at court. Despite his love of his young bride Ludovico took a mistress, Cecilia Gallerani (thought to be the subject of the painting Lady With The Ermine). Beatrice fought her relentlessly, finally succeeding in getting her sent away. Ludovico did not hesitate to take another mistress in the form of Lucrezia Crivelli (possibly the panel La Belle Ferroniere) but when Beatrice died at only twenty-two he was inconsolable.