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Flora (also La Columbina or Columbine) is a painting by Francesco Melzi (Italian, 1491-1570), completed circa 1520.[1] It depicts the Roman mythological figure Flora, the goddess of springtime and flowers, a popular subject among Renaissance artists.[2] The painting was in the collection of Maria de’ Medici in 1649 and has been in the collection of Hermitage Museum since 1850.

La Columbina, Columbine
Francesco Melzi Flora after 2019 conservation.jpg
ArtistFrancesco Melzi
Yearca. 1520
Mediumoil on panel transferred to canvas
Dimensions76 cm × 63 cm (30 in × 25 in)
LocationHermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
AccessionГЭ-107; ИР.-4564



Flora was painted in the style typical of the Leonardeschi, utilizing Leonardo da Vinci's female facial type with downcast eyes, Leonardo's sfumato technique, and displaying Leonardo's penchant for careful observation of plants and hair.[3] In the composition, Flora is seated in a grotto, surrounded by ferns and ivy. She wears the costume of an ancient Roman,[4] with a white stola embroidered in gold and with a blue palla thrown over one shoulder. In her lap are white jasmines, and in her left hand she holds a spray of columbine that formerly gave the painting its title.[5]

The plants surrounding Flora held symbolic meaning for 16th and 17th century viewers. For example, the columbine, also known as aquilegia, are a symbol of fertility. Alongside Flora's exposed breast, the columbine emphasizes her role as a 'mother of flowers.'[3] The jasmine in her proper right hand are symbolic of purity. The anemones in the folds of her palla in the lower left of the image represent rebirth. In ancient Greece, anemones were also the flower of the wind; these flowers thus also reference how Flora was married to Zephyrus, god of the West Wind.[3] The ivy in the upper right represents eternity, and the fern in the upper left reflects the solitude of the grotto.[6]


Melzi was a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci and the technique he used in this painting mirrors that of his teacher so well that the painting was thought to be an autograph work by Leonardo when it was purchased on behalf of Tsar Nicholas I for the Hermitage.[7] Once at the museum, scholars attributed the painting to a variety of different Leonardeschi: In 1871, Joseph Crowe and Giovanni Cavalcaselle argued that it should be attributed to Andrea Solari;[8] in 1892 Giovanni Morelli claimed it was painted by Giampietrino;[9] and in 1899 George C. Williamson claimed it to be by Bernardino Luini.[10] Claude Phillips called Flora a "puzzle" and felt that the painting had an underdrawing by Leonardo but was painted by a pupil.[5]

The attribution of Flora to Melzi is based on close similarities between the painting and other works by the artist, especially Vertumnus and Pomona at the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin.[3] Adolfo Venturi wrote how the "same seductive, tender feminine charms, and the same Hellenic spirit recur in the Columbina" as in Vertumnus and Pomona.[11] Traces of Melzi's signature were uncovered in the lower left corner of the painting in 1963, further strengthening the attribution.[12]

Along with Flora and Columbine, the painting has at times been called "Vanity" as well as "Gioconda." It was once also named "Portrait of Mme Babou de la Bourdaisière" when it was thought it might be a portrait of the mistress of Francis I.[3]


H. Wijnands, "King Willem II in the Kneuterdijk Palace in The Hague," 1847. Oil on panel, 33 x 43 cm. Stichting Historische Verzamelingen van het Huis Oranje-Nassau, The Hague. In the upper right, 'Flora' is shown hanging above a suit of armor.[13]

The known history of the painting's ownership is as follows:[14]


Flora was painted on wood panel which was transferred to canvas in the nineteenth century. Despite this, the paint layers are reported to be in good condition with a well-preserved underdrawing and minor losses and abrasions to the surface.[2]

In 2019, the painting underwent a conservation treatment performed by Maria Vyacheslavovna Shulepova (Марией Вячеславовной Шулеповой) of the State Hermitage Museum. Before, the painting was covered in a yellowed varnish which obscured details and flattened the appearance of the background. The varnish also made the ultramarine palla worn by Flora to appear green. Analysis of the paint layers further revealed that Melzi did not "cheat" in painting the palla by glazing expensive ultramarine over a less expensive azurite; rather, being wealthy, Melzi could afford to paint the entire garment in pure ultramarine.[2]

In popular cultureEdit

Flora appears on the cover of Italian singer Mango's 2009 album Gli amori son finestre.[16]

In 2012, a sixteenth-century copy of Flora sold at Christie's for £937,250 to a private collector in Saint Petersburg, Russia.[17][18]


Further documentationEdit

  • E. de Bruyn, ‘’De schilderijenverzameling van Zijne Koninklijke Hoogheid de prins van Oranje te Brussel’’, Bulletin de la Classe des Beaux Arts, Academie Royale de Belgique 28 (1946), 155-63.
  • H. E. van Gelder, ‘’De kinsteverzameling van kning Willem II’’, Maandlad voor de Beeldende Kunsten 24 (1948), 137-48.
  • Erik Hinterding and Femy Horsch, ‘‘’A Small but choice collection’’: the art gallery of King Willem II of the Netherlands (1792-1849)’, Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art 19, no.1/2 (1989), 4-122. [Which includes a ‘Reconstruction of the Collection of Old Master Paintings’ pp.55-122. Provenance for Flora is on page 13 and 114]
  • Tatyana K. Kustodieva, The Hermitage: Catalogue of Western European Painting; Italian Painting, Thirteenth to Sixteenth Centuries (Moscow and Florence: Iskusstvo Publishers, 1994), 296-7.
  • Darius A. Spieth, Revolutionary Paris and the Market for Netherlandish Art (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2018), 99 note 194 and 270-1.
  • Wilhelm Suida, Leonardo und sein Kreis (Munich: 1929), 232-33, fig. 302.


  1. ^ "Flora (Флора)". The State Hermitage Digital Collections (in Russian).
  2. ^ a b c Кустодиев, Т.К.; Калинина, К.Б.; Шулепова, М.В. (February 2019). "«Флора» Франческо Мельци. К завершению реставрации (Francesco Melzi's "Flora": Toward the Completion of the Restoration)". The State Hermitage Museum.
  3. ^ a b c d e Burns, Emily. "Leonardo's Legacy: Francesco Melzi and the Leonardeschi | Paintings | National Gallery, London". Retrieved 2019-05-28.
  4. ^ Wilcox, Marrion (December 1919). "Francesco Melzi, Disciple of Leonardo". Art & Life. vol. 11, no. 6: 296–298, illus. p. 294 – via JSTOR.
  5. ^ a b Masters in art: a series of illustrated monographs. Boston: Bates and Guild Company. 1902. pp. 35-36 (Luini), illus. plate VII.
  6. ^ Burns, Emily. "Explore a new loan to the Gallery, Francesco Melzi’s ‘Flora’, part of our new display in Room 12, ‘Leonardo’s Legacy: Francesco Melzi and the Leonardeschi,'" Facebook Live. The National Gallery. 29 May 2019, 6:15 PM. [1][2]
  7. ^ Catalogue des tableaux anciens et modernes, de diverses ecoles; dessins et statues, formant la galerie de feu Sa Majeste Guillaume II, Roi des Pays-Bas, Prince d’Orange-`Nassau, grand-Duc de Luxembourg, etc. etc. etc. (Amsterdam: 1850), 76-77, cat. no. 191. [Listed as attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.]
  8. ^ Crowe, Joseph A.; Cavalcaselle, Giovanni B. (1871). A history of painting in North Italy, Volume 2. London: John Murray. p. 58.
  9. ^ Morelli, Giovanni (1892). Italian painters. Translated by Ffoulkes, Constance Jocelyn. London: John Murray. pp. 162, illus.
  10. ^ Williamson, George C. (1899). Bernardino Luini. London: G. Bell and sons. pp. 91, 137.
  11. ^ Venturi, Adolfo (1915). Storia dell'arte italiana. Milan: Ulrico Hoepli.
  12. ^ Marotzki, Miriam S. (2011). "Die zwei Freunde des Leonardo da Vinci: Eine kunsthistorische Fallstudie". In Classen, Albrecht; Sandidge, Marilyn (eds.). Friendship in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age: Explorations of a Fundamental Ethical Discourse. Berlin: De Gruyter, Inc. p. 602. ISBN 9786613166685.
  13. ^ Blotkamp, Carel (2004). "Visual Arts: The Doom of the Golden Age". In Fokkema, Douwe; Grijzenhout, Frans (eds.). Dutch Culture in a European Perspective: Accounting for the past, 1650-2000. Vol. 5. Translated by Vincent, Paul. Assen, The Netherlands: Royal van Gorcum. p. 288. ISBN 9023239679.
  14. ^ THE NATIONAL GALLERY IMMUNITY FROM SEIZURE: Francesco Melzi ‘Flora’ loan to the National Gallery, 22 May 2019 - 23 June 2019 (PDF). London: The National Gallery. 2019.
  15. ^ C. J. Nieuwenhuys, Description de la galerie des tableaux de S. M. le roi des Pays bas, avic quelques remarques sur l’histoire des peintures et sur les progress de l’art (Brussels: 1843), 182.
  16. ^ "Mango: esce l'album "Gli amori son finestre" | Music Room". 2015-02-21. Retrieved 2019-06-24.
  17. ^ "Follower of Leonardo da Vinci, 16th Century , 'La Columbine': Portrait of a woman as Flora, half-length, in a white, embroidered dress with a ruby brooch and a blue wrap, holding an aquilegia in her left hand, with jasmine and anemones on her lap, fern and kenilworth ivy climbing a wall beyond". Retrieved 2019-06-24.
  18. ^ Kustodieva, Tatyana (31 May 2016). "Two Floras". The State Hermitage Museum.
  19. ^ ""La Colombina" (Flora) (Primary Title) - (53.29.4)". Virginia Museum of Fine Arts |. Retrieved 2019-06-30.
  20. ^ Pedretti,Carlo. Leonardo: A Study in Chronology and Style. (University of California Press, 1973): 185.