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“I ask your forgiveness; I am a mountain tiger”

(“Ginevra de’ Benci” by Leonardo da Vinci (c.1474-1478)

Why does she ask forgiveness?/For what and from whom?/Why does she call herself/a mountain tiger?”

Ti chiedo perdono: sono una tigre di montagna

Ginevra de’ Benci, 1457–1521

We know this woman only because

Leonardo painted her portrait

when both of them were young,

her father a Florentine merchant,

her brother da Vinci’s friend.

Herself a beauty, married at sixteen

to a widower twice her age,

she was said to be sickly all her life,

childless, sad, possibly married

to someone she didn’t love.

This last just speculation;

we’ll never know. We do know

she wrote poetry, but only a single line

has come to us down the years.

Why does she ask forgiveness?

For what and from whom?

Why does she call herself

a mountain tiger?.


W. D. Ehrhart has authored or edited a number of collections of poetry and prose, most recently Thank You for Your Service: Collected Poems and What We Can and Can’t Afford: Essays on Vietnam, Patriotism, and American Life, both from McFarland & Company, Inc. He holds a Ph.D. from University of Wales at Swansea and taught at The Haverford School in Pennsylvania from 2001 to 2019.

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