Nothing Up Her Sleeve

GINEVRA de BENCIStuff happens…

The lower third of this painting by Leonardo is missing. Where did it go? Was it destroyed through accident or by malicious design? What was this girl holding in her hands? I premise it was a bouquet of flowers that held a sinister secret.

Only the perpetrator or perpetrators of this crime know the answer, since the details of her sabotage are as lost as the damaged portion of the panel. It was cut down to form a square – an awkward and unlikely shape for Leonardo, who was committed to the divine proportions of the golden section. The sides may have also been trimmed to eliminate an odd ‘landscape’ format. To my mind, it is most unlikely for Leonardo to have painted half-a-tree, as seen on the right, in the uncropped original.

This painting reveals another hidden secret – a fingerprint made when the portrait was wet, has recently been discovered.

Ginevra de Benci details

‘Ginevra de Benci’ details of fingerprint

The Latin inscription, ‘virtutem forma decorat’ which means beauty adorns virtue’ (perhaps a tad tongue-in cheek) on the reverse of the painting is off-centre which is further indication of a compromised original ‘format.’ Although I cannot speak for Leonardo (other than in my novels) he seems to be a symmetrical thinker. His inscription would most probably be centered to balance the overall shape of the panel.

back of the 'Ginevra de Benci' painting

back of the ‘Ginevra de Benci’ painting


Any guesses as to how this work of art came to be destroyed?

In my trilogy, Second Lisa, there is an original image, changed under bizarre circumstances of jealousy and rage, and it becomes a prime example of ‘momento mori’ (Latin for ‘remember that you will die. Often portrayed as a still-life painting of decaying fruit and flowers)

portrait of Cecelia Gallerani by Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo painted one woman holding a ferret. How much magnificent detail would be lost forever if it had been ‘edited’ by a vindictive hand? How many ‘Leonardos’ have been retouched, over-cleaned, and purposely disguised to evade ‘capture?’

Leonardo’s drawing of hands may have been a study for the Ginevra commission. They are attributed as a precursor to Mona Lisa’s serenely-composed hands. A marble bust, believed to be Ginevra, sculpted by Leonardos’s first master, Andrea Verrocchio, posed her holding a bouquet of flowers, and several savvy poets dedicated sonnets to her during her ‘most popular girl of the month’ status. Many referenced their ‘it girl’ to a flower.

marble bust of Ginevra de Benci by Andrea Verrocchio

marble bust of Ginevra de Benci by Andrea Verrocchio

drawing of hands by Leonardo da Vinci

drawing of hands by Leonardo da Vinci

In my novel Second Lisa, I place something more sinister in Ginevra’s hands, and the portrait’s ‘abductor’ is revealed.

This is why writing historical fiction/fantasy is so cool. An author can listen to their muse and characters can reveal truths that even surprise themselves.

Read an excerpt for Second Lisa in the BOOKS category of this website.




About Veronica Knox

Veronica Knox has a Fine Arts Degree from the University of Alberta, where she studied Art History, Classical Studies, and Painting. In her career as a graphic designer, illustrator, private art teacher, and ‘fine artist,’ she has also worked with the brain-injured and autistic, developing new theories of hand-to-eye-to-mind connection. Veronica lives on the west coast of Canada, supporting local animal rescue shelters, painting, writing, editing other author’s novels, and championing the conservation of tigers and elephants, and their habitats. Her artwork and visuals to support ‘Second Lisa’ may be viewed on her website -
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