A Polish Princess and The Lady with an Ermine

This month marks 164th anniversary of the death of a famous Neoclassical sculptor Lorenzo Bartolini, who in Santa Croce executed among others, the Tomb of the Princess Zofia Czartoryski Zamoyska (Warsaw, 1778 – Florence, 1837). The funerary monument, considered the last important work of Bartolini, was executed in white Carrara marble from 1837-1844. Shocking in its stark realism, this tomb was so admired by its contemporaries that a guidebook published in Berlin in 1853, considered it on its own worthy of a trip to Florence.

Tomb of Zofia Czartoryski Zamoyska by Lorenzo Bartolini

Princes Zamoyska, a worthy subject for a famous sculptor, was the youngest daughter of the Polish prince Adam Kazimierz and the countess Isabella Flemming. This prominent Polish family is remembered today for their important art collection: Zofia’s mother Isabella founded the first art museum in Poland, the Czartoryski Museum in Kraków, while her older brother Adam (Warsaw, 1770 – Paris, 1861) added to the collection an important portrait, Leonardo da Vinci’s The Lady with an Ermine. 

Leonardo da Vinci, The Lady with an Ermine

After many years of debate amongst art historians, The Lady with an Ermine is now unanimously recognized as a work by Leonardo da Vinci and generally accepted as his portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, the beautiful mistress of Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. It is assumed that the painting remained in Gallerani’s possession in Milan and Cremona until her death, in 1536. What happened to it in the centuries that followed is shrouded in a veil of mystery, until around 1800, when the painting was acquired by the prince Adam Czartoryski in Italy.

The painting remained in the Czartoryski’s collection until uprisings in Poland in 1830-31, when the Czartoryski family was forced in exile. Princ Adam took his probably most precious possession with him to Paris, where it was exhibited in his new home, the Hôtel Lambert. After Adam’s death in 1861, the painting was returned to Kraków. In 1939, following the German occupation of Poland, the portrait was seized by the Nazis and sent to the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin. In 1940, Hans Frank, the Governor General of Poland, requested it be returned to Kraków, to decorate his own offices. At the end of the Second World War it was discovered by Allied troops in Frank’s country home in Bavaria. It has since been returned to Poland at the Czartoryski Museum in Kraków, where it is still visible today.

Zofia Czartoryski Zamoyska
Adam Czartoryski

While her brother Adam settled in Paris and became a patriotic leader of Polish refugees in France, Zofia Czartoryski Zamoyska’s exile brought her to Florence in early October 1833. Her family settled at the Villa Orsi at Careggi. Less than two years later, in 1835, the princess was diagnosed with cancer and she died in 1837, at the age of 59. We will never know if during her youth in Poland, she got to enjoy her afternoon tea admiring Leonardo’s timeless masterpiece in her family’s collection.

Paola Vojnovic

***A small guidebook, Santa Croce in Pink, available at the Santa Croce bookshop (€12), features the Tomb of the Princess Czartoryski Zamoyska as well as other famous women buried/commemorated in Santa Croce.


5 thoughts on “A Polish Princess and The Lady with an Ermine

  1. Thank you Paola for this write up and our recent visit to Santa Croce where you talked with us in Elaine’s class. I am so excited to have seen this sculpture and know this story. Last year I was lucky enough to see The Girl with the Ermine in Krakow! It’s fun to tie places and things that you love together with these stories!

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