The Lady With an Ermine by Leonardo photographed with multispectral camera

1. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
The Lady With an Ermine
Oil on panel - 54 x 39 cm
Cracow, Czartoryski Muzeum
After virtual restoration by
Lumière Technology

15/11/07 — Study of a work — Cracow, Czartoryski Muzeum — We had presented the demonstration of the multispectral camera at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lille by Lumière Technology and explained its contributions to the work of art historians and restorers (see article). Early last September, this time in Cracow, the company was able to photograph, after the Mona Lisa, another painting by Leonardo da Vinci, the famous Lady With en Ermine hanging in the Czartoryski Muzeum.

On Monday, November 12, the results of the study obtained after digitization were released to the press and the Polish public which crowded into a quickly over-flowing room. Over two hundred people, many travelling from Warsaw for the occasion, attended the conference (ill. 2). The French Consul General in Cracow representing France’s Ambassador was also present. The event, which was headlined today in Polish newspapers, was organized thanks to a French technology which is now considered a major discovery.

2. Presentation by
Pascal Cotte of the results of the multispectral
digitization, in Cracow, 13th November 2007
Photo : D. Rykner

The process does not of course claim to replace the knowledge and the eye of a trained specialist, but seeks instead to provide him with further, and invaluable, assistance. The results were presented by a Frenchman, Jacques Franck, an expert on Leonardo’s pictorial technique [1]. Thanks to his conclusions, which we summarize below, and under his guidance, Pascal Cotte, of Lumière Technology, demonstrated a virtual restoration of the painting. An image of what the work might look like after restoration was thus created (ill. 1). This establishes a proposal that should be studied by an international committee in case the museum should decide on a restoration (see the Interview of Prince Czartoryski).

The uniform black background was thought not to be by Leonardo. The analysis confirmed this hypothesis and found, in some places, the original color under this extensive “repeint”. It was formerly a bluish-gray shaded differently from left to right of the painting, thus giving it an impression of depth. In its present condition, the black background hides the subtlety of the transitions around the contours, particularly in the lightened part of the face and on the slope of the left shoulder. This absence of nuance, due to subsequent repainting, had many art historians doubt the authenticity of the work. These abrupt passages were attenuated thanks to digital touch-ups. Although the painting, except for the black background, is generally in good condition, many occasional “repeints” are visible. These were eliminated digitally. Their disappearance, especially in the lower part, as well as in the headdress and on the right hand, revealed - virtually - the painting’s freshness. The ermine seemed white again. The fingerprints on the neckline had already been detected but the spectral analysis showed that these were intentional, not accidental, and were executed by Leonardo on purpose for effect.

3. Comparison of the original Lady With an Ermine
by Leonardo da Vinci
and its virtual restoration, in the Czartoryski
with Jacques Franck (on the right, Jean Pénicaut
and Pasal Cotte),
13th November 2007
Photo : D. Rykner

The resulting image is hence a virtual restoration which Jacques Franck qualifies however by saying that, although it is based on precise scientific observations, it remains that of a basis for thought ; only cleaning tests on the work itself could definitively show that a real restoration would reach a comparable result. Nevertheless, one sees here one of the many possible applications of the multispectral camera, as a tool in helping restorers decide how to proceed. Should the restoration of the Lady With an Ermine prove to be too complicated or too risky, at least this process will have produced an image much closer to the original which helps in better understanding the work. This was obvious at the museum where some reporters remained after the presentation. The comparaison between the original painting and its virtual restoration is fascinating (ill. 3). An exhibition is being organized end of November for two months showing the pictures that were taken, from infra-red to ultra-violet, not only of Leonardo’s work, but also of a superb landscape by Rembrandt and some other paintings in the museum photographed at the same time by Lumière Technology.

Link to the website of Lumière Technology

Link to the website of the Czartoryski Muzeum

Link to the website of the Princes Czartoryski Foundation

Version française

Didier Rykner, jeudi 15 novembre 2007


[1] Jacques Franck is notably permanent consultant for the Armand Hammer Center for Leonardo Studies at the University of California, directed by Professor Carlo Pedretti, the great specialist on Leonardo da Vinci.

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