Leonardo painted this portrait while in Milan working for the duke Ludovico Sforza. The sitter, Cecilia Gallerani, became the Duke's mistress in 1489. The ermine she holds, a weasel, was a highly valued creature. The ermine also refers to her character: according to legend, the ermine is too fastidious to dirty its fur. Thus the ermine suggests Cecilia's wholesome and pure nature. The ermine also refers directly to duke Ludovico himself who was nicknamed Italico Morel bianco ermellino ("Italian Moor, white ermine"). Thus the painting celebrates both the girl's beauty and the couple’s relationship.