The Lady of the Ermine

The Lady of the Ermine

A lady, some identify as Doña Jerónima de las Cuevas, looks at us coldly, distantly, from the masterful portrait left by El Greco almost five hundred years ago. The mother of the only son of the Cretan painter contains one of the legends that could only have happened in Toledo.

El Greco left a deep mark on the culture of the city of Toledo, as a good example is the legend around his figure we bring to these pages. Some of the city’s best-known traditions are masterfully combined in this narrative:

The brush moved slowly in the hands of the newcomer to Toledo. Here he was called “El Greco” because his land was far away and a certain fame was helping him to earn a living making portraits and commissions, like the one that now occupied him in this year of 1576. He had rented the old palace of the Marquis of Villena, on which black stories weighed, to which he did not give importance, because there he had large spaces to exercise his art.

He now worked day after day to give shape to a portrait commissioned by Don Diego de las Cuevas, a nobleman from Toledo, who frequently posed and visited the painter accompanied by his beautiful daughter, Doña Jerónima, who was impressed by the painter’s ease in reflecting his father’s effigy on canvas. The studio was part of the rooms occupied some time ago by the Marquis with the fame of a magician and to whom not a few prodigies were assigned. The girl observed with attention the great quantity of jars, jars with paint, brushes, pots that were in the room in which El Greco exercised his art, and among all the materials he noticed a net that stood out above all the others, of greenish color and with an elegant form that differed from the others. Attached to it was an old parchment containing strange characters that were not identified by Doña Jerónima.

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Domenico observed the curiosity of the woman for the flask, and excited to have the opportunity to speak with her he explained to her that that strange container found it by chance among the numerous utensils that were in one of the subways of the house and that once translated the parchment he could find out that the liquid that it contained was a magic elixir, of such power, that if a man and a woman breathed only once its perfume, they would be in love forever.

The unbelieving father recommended to the painter that if that was true, he should immediately hand over the bottle to the Inquisition, but El Greco downplayed the importance of the find…