Oil painting on panel; painting size: 43x31cm; Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan.
Leonardo da Vinci was the first who was sent from Florence to Milan as a sort of cultural ambassador by Lorenzo the Magnificent: together with Atalante Migliorotti, he took to Ludovico a musical instrument, a lyre, being an accomplished musician himself, as well as the author of texts on improvisations. Leonardo's interest in music also found expression in this portrait painting work, datable to between 1485 and 1487, which is the only portrait of a man attributed to the famous artist. Various identities have been proposed for the sitter, and critics now favor the hypothesis that he was Franceschino Gaffurio, choirmaster of Milan Cathedral since 1484. However, the identification of the man is irrelevant to the interpretation of the painting, which is not intended to be the portrait of a particular person but a representation of a musician in the act of performing. The singer is holding a sheet of paper on which the score is written, and the rigidity of his pose is contradicted by the movement of the muscles of the face and mouth, half closed as if to control his respiration while emitting a note.
This painting of Da Vinci shows the influence of Northern European painting in the great precision of the description, and this may stem from the fact that Leonardo had been able to see works by Antonello da Messina in Milan. The dark background, which reappears in other works by the artist but was extremely rare at that time, is typical of the Sicilian painter's portraits, as is the attention paid to the representation of expressions and psychological attitudes, which Da Vinci called the motions of the mind.