Whatever opinion you may have of art it is no exaggeration to say that Leonardo da Vinci was one of the greatest painters in history especially in terms of influence and the fame that his work attracts hundreds of years after his death.
What may surprise some people is that despite this recognition there are only around a dozen or so of his oil paintings in existence and some of these are either incomplete or their authenticity regularly called in question. There is an even smaller number of cities that are lucky enough to house one of Da Vinci’s paintings and Krakow is blessed with this honour.
The painting in question is called “The Lady with Ermine” and is usually housed in the Czartoryski museum in the Old Town-regarded as one of the oldest private museums in the world. This museum is currently being extensively renovated and is scheduled to re-open in 2018 so Da Vinci’s painting is housed for the time being at Wawel Castle.
The painting was purchased in 1800 by Prince Adam Czartoryski who shipped it off to his mother in Poland who was by that time already starting to build her private collection.
Poland’s turbulent history is mirrored with the history of The Lady with Ermine as the picture has had to be moved several times to escape invading armies. During the Second World War it is perhaps unsurprising that the Nazis had seized possession of the picture. Hans Frank, the governor of Poland, kept the painting in his private accommodation which he had set up within Wawel castle but by the end of the war it had disappeared only to be eventually found at Frank’s summer retreat in Bavaria.
Although Krakow is very popular with tourists it doesn’t have the huge numbers that visit London, Rome, Florence or Paris (cities that also house Da Vinci oil paintings) so the experience of viewing the Lady with Ermine feels more personal without the distraction of hundreds of tourists clamouring to see the same picture.