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Picture of the Month




A young woman by Antonio del Pollaiuolo (1432-1498)

Pollaiuolo first appeared as painter around 1460. He shared a studio with his brother, is believed to have been a student of Andrea del Castagno, and also worked as a sculptor. The painting is in the tradition of profile portraits that were typical of the Italian (especially Florentine) high Renaissance, e.g.

Both the earliest and latest examples are stylistically somewhat different, while those of the 1460s/70s are pretty close to this one, so I guess this one must be of the same time frame. The "unknown woman" linked above wears a similar dress - solid colour with a patterned sleeve -, a similar pearl necklace and similar headdress. The sleeve pattern is especially intestesting as it fits into the armhole as if it was made for it. The same is true for Baldovinetti's lady. In both cases, we see a tight necklace of round pearls with something - a gem maybe? - suspended from the front. Both have a rather bizarre hairdo that looks like something I'd perpetrate while still half asleep. This one is held by a strange blue contraption with a strain of pearls wound around it, crowned by a circlet of pearls and a small arrangement on top of the hea - again, very much like the Baldovinetti lady. The pearls and what very probably is a silk brocade on the sleeve tells us that this young lady is from a rich background. The fact that someone paid a painter to portray her says the same.

Another striking feature in both paintings is the veil, or whatever it should be called, that partially covers the hair and the ears. In the above example, it is even pulled forward and around the ear as if there was a special significance to the ears being covered, a bit like blinders on a horse. The sheerness suggests silk rather than linen, and with rustling silk over the ears, the poor woman must have been quite hard of hearing. The fabric is so sheer that it's hard to say what it covers besides the ears, but juding from the hue it seems to cover all of the back of the head, i.e. wherever the blue contraption is.

Unfortunately, the painters of profile portraits were not much interested in depicting the clothing, but simply inserted something 2D-looking. We can just about deduce that the neckline must have been relatively low in back, the dress body of solid colour and the sleeves patterned. Fortunately there's Botticelli and Ghirlandaio with more information.

Pictures of the month archive

If you want to find older Pictures of the Month, use one of the above links to jump to a previous edition, and from there to yet older ones etc.

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