The Ermine Pics

December 29, 2017
Lady with an Ermine, by Leonardo da Vinci

This is one of my favorite Leonardo da Vinci portraits, beating the Mona Lisa by a mile. The insouciant gaze in the lady’s eyes is priceless. One of the things that intrigues me about this portrait is what it shows about how late Medieval and Renaissance people thought about the weasel, the critter in this picture, also known as a Stoat, sometimes called an Ermine in his winter coat.

He’s a pretty muscular Ermine, isn’t he?

Lady in Ermine by Sofonisba Anguissola.
The woman in the picture is Cecilia Gallerani, the mistress of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan and a patron of Leonardo’s. Ludovico belonged to an organization called the Order of the Ermine, and the pet Cecilia holds in her arm is probably meant to represent him. Perhaps getting a portrait painted with the mistress was a step too far even for a powerful nobleman. Or maybe this was a statement about the nature of their relationship. Or possibly the lady had a favorite Ermine. (They were often kept by nobility as pets).

The Ermine signified purity, including sexual chastity, which was another reason to associate the creature with the Duke’s unmarried lover. The Order of the Ermine, founded in Naples by King Ferdinand I in 1464, emphasized chivalric honor and integrity. An earlier Order of the Ermine was founded in Brittany in 1381 and took its emblem from the coat of arms of the Duchy of Brittany. The emblem signified loyalty and heroism on behalf of Brittany.

Elizabeth I Ermine Portrait by William Segar
I suspect (with no evidence that I know of) that the Stoat/Ermine was originally a family totem, perhaps associated with a specific tribal leadership, but by the Renaissance he was an emblem of all royalty, held dear as a trimming for garments that only the aristocracy could afford. The 1585 portrait of Elizabeth I of England used the Ermine to underscore her royal legitimacy (her father’s marriage to her mother was considered illegitimate by Catholics) and her virgin chastity.

Going back to the original Lady with an Ermine, Cecilia seems to have been an interesting woman. She was not from a noble family but was nevertheless well educated and wrote poetry and essays in Latin (like other women of her day, not for publication). Even after the Duke’s wife managed to quash their affair and she remarried, Cecilia continued to hold literary salons, and she was admired as a cultured woman during her lifetime.

Shield of Duchy of Brittany. The white signifies the Ermine’s white coat, the black his spotted tail.

“Secrets of Da Vinci’s Lady with an Ermine Finally Revealed,” in Art World, September 30, 2014.

“Who Was Cecilia Gallerani?” in Art Galleries Home Galleries 1998.

“1585 “Ermine” portrait by Nicholas Hilliard (Hatfield House, Hatfield UK),” in Grand Ladies November 5, 2009.

Blessings of the Season

December 22, 2017
Early 20th Century Postcard by Carlo Chiostri.

From Invoking Animal Magic:

There are a few positive Christian legends about spiders. In one story, spiders decorate the Christmas tree with their webs, which is why tinsel is applied to holiday trees today. In another a spider spins a thick web over the cradle of Baby Jesus to hide him from the wicked King Herod. Since Christmas is the most pagan of Christian holidays, it seems reasonable that some pagan solstice stories about spiders became woven with Christian themes.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Toil and Trouble

December 8, 2017

Last Friday, I was greeted in the morning with an email from a woman who was trying to sign up for my newsletter and getting an error page. I discovered that the commercial email company handling my mailing list went out of business. Not only that, the new company who had bought out the old assured me that my email list existed in my new account, but they had no new account for me, and my list had disappeared forever, and at any rate they had sent me an email about the transfer a month ago. I didn’t believe any of this was true, but I still asked my web host to go through my incoming email for the past six months and they could find no such email from the old company or the new. Assigning blame is pointless, though. I don’t have the list. I scrambled the rest of the day to set up a new commercial mail account and update my web page.

Fortunately I did make a backup, never in a million years thinking I would need it for this purpose, although the backup is older than I would like. Between my backup file and other sources, I will be putting it back together again. People who have signed up for my infrequent newsletters will get a notice saying they have been added to the new list. Don’t delete the email and don’t report it as spam. Click the link and verify that you have voluntarily joined the mailing list. If you want to save me some headache and typing, click the “newsletter” link and sign up yourself. It’s under the book picture at the top of the home page.

Putting together a mailing list is going to take me some time, but I didn’t have anything I wanted to say in an email at the moment anyway, except “Happy Yule,” and I am no longer in the holiday spirit. Mercury retrograde. What else is there to say?

Companion Animals and Your Health

December 1, 2017

As a single writer, it would be easy for me to fall into that stereotypic trap of keeping irregular hours. Staying up all night as the creative urge takes hold; lounging in bed with a book until the sun hangs low in the west. One thing that keeps this from happening is the person in charge of my schedule: my cat, Samhain.

There is the morning and evening feeding schedule, of course, but it would be fairly simple to work around that. Samhain insists, however, that the rest of the schedule be maintained. I must not only get up at a certain time, but go to bed at the appointed time. Then there is yoga time, and play time, and time to brush teeth. I have to admit that I was the one who established the routine; Samhain only enforces it rigorously. (You try disobeying a Siamese cat.)

While I chafe sometimes under the tyranny, I have to admit that it keeps me from falling into sleep deprivation and other destructive habits. Pets have many ways of keeping us healthy. This article at Positive Health Wellness discusses a wide range of health benefits (for humans) of keeping a pet:

Just petting your animal helps to release the relaxation hormones. Your blood pressure will drop, and you are at a much lower risk of various side effects of too much stress..