The story of “Lady with an Ermine” – how did the painting find its place in Kraków?

Leonardo da Vinci is probably the most famous of all painters. Not everyone knows that he has painted only a dozen or so paintings throughout his entire life. One of them is the famous “Lady with an Ermine”, a painting exhibited at the National Museum in Krakow.

How did the “Lady with an Ermine” find itself in Poland?
In 1798, the painting was bought as a gift for the mother Izabela by the young prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski. He bought it during a trip to Italy in unknown circumstances. The Italian trip, combined with admiring masterpieces of painting and architecture, was a common custom of aristocrats, artists and scholars in the era of Prince Adam Jerzy.

Princess Izabela Czartoryska, for whom the gift was intended, was a beautiful and intelligent woman. She was considered a bon vivant, her life was full of strange turnovers: she was a great lady of the Age of Enlightenment, as if she were alive out of the pages of the novel “Dangerous Relationships” by Choderlos de Laclos. She was interested in art and science, and had many mansions and palaces, which she arranged in a rococo and sentimental style. The Czartoryski Palace in Puławy was of greatest significance, where she founded the first museum in Poland. It was in Puławy, not in Krakow, where the “Lady with the Ermine” was originally exhibited.

Further history of the “Lady with the Ermine”
In 1830, the November Uprising broke out. Fbe precious painting was evacuated to Paris, thanks to which it avoided the fate of many other paintings in Polish collections – it was not looted by the Russians. For several decades, it was one of the most magnificent palaces in France, owned by the Czartoryski Hotel, Lambert, the main center of Polish cultural life in exile. During the bloody events of the Paris Commune, he miraculously escaped destruction.

After Galicia was granted partial autonomy, Czartoryski decided to transfer his art collections to Krakow. The painting, like the “Portrait of a Young Man” by Rafael, lost during World War II, was located there in 1878. The collections were the property of family’s foundation.

During World War II, the Germans took the painting to Bavaria. However, it was successfully recovered and returned to Krakow. In 2016, it was bought by the Polish state from the Czartoryski family. Currently, it is displayed in the main building of the National Museum.