The 15th century portrait of a young woman holding a white ermine – otherwise known as a stoat or short-tailed weasel – has pride of place in a major exhibition of Renaissance art to open Thursday at Berlin’s Bode Museum.
Along with the Mona Lisa, the work is one of just four paintings of women by the famed Italian Renaissance master.
Stolen by Hitler’s troops during World War II, the masterpiece was later returned to Poland.
The Culture Ministry in Warsaw was initially hostile to the idea of the painting on wood leaving the country, fearing it could be damaged.
But a personal appeal by its owner, Polish aristocrat Prince Adam Karol Czartoryski, convinced the ministry to allow it to go on display in Madrid earlier this year, then Berlin and later London.
The German press called the loan a gesture of “reconciliation” between Poland and Germany.
Around 1800, the Czartoryski family acquired the 54×39 centimetre (21.25×15
inch) portrait painted by da Vinci between 1488 and 1490.
The work is believed to depict Cecilia Gallerani, the mistress of an Italian nobleman, Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan and the son of one of da Vinci’s patrons.