Art History



Degree Name

Master of Arts in Art History (M.A.)

Type of Paper/Work

Qualifying paper


Dr. Lois Eliason, Ph.D., Chair Dr. Craig Eliason, Ph.D. Dr. Michele Nordtorp-Madson, Ph.D


Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of Isabella d’Este from 1500 marks a vital turning point in the development of his artistic oeuvre and in the history of renaissance portraiture. The portrait drawing of Isabella in profile has been undervalued by scholars for the immediate impact it made after its creation. The work represents the artist and sitter’s combined knowledge of artistic traditions and the capabilities of the arts to convey power. My project will highlight the important role Leonardo’s drawing of Isabella played in the development of his portraiture by focusing its place in his oeuvre and the propagandistic nature of the sitter’s depiction. I will also explore the influence Isabella had in creating her portrait, as she was a powerful female patron of the arts, and she used her collection and depictions of her image to enable her power in a male dominated society. I will argue that the drawing shows a decisive shift in Leonardo’s
approach to portraiture, and that the drawing of Isabella was the precursor to his
creation of a new portrait type in the Mona Lisa. Understanding the portrait
drawing of Isabella is crucial for understanding the Mona Lisa as the culmination
of Leonardo’s artistic career.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.