I usually choose the pictures of the month from a directory into which I stuff all costume-related files that I get in electronic format. This one I got as an email attachment, but I'm afraid that the email has joined the choir invisible, along with any info about the picture or its donor. Whoever it was: Thank you very much! I chose it because I like the colour of the dress, because the front of the bodice looks sufficiently curved to suggest the absence of a corset, and because I wanted to play detective.
The file name told me that the sitter is a certain "Maria di Cosimo", and that's it. Who is she? The dress with its lace, pearls and gold brocade borders as well as the silver-bound book make it clear that she is a member of the upper crust. The name implies Italy and in fact it makes me wonder whether the file name was a misnomer: We may be looking at Maria de'Medici, daughter of Cosimo I. de'Medici (thus "of Cosimo") and Eleanora di Toldeo, born in 1540. The facial features - small mouth, long, straight nose, relatively straight eyebrows - can be seen in earlier portraits of Maria (at age 11) and of her mother.
So, when was this portrait painted? The puffed sleeve heads were often seen in mid-to-late 16th century Italian fashion - see Eleanora di Toledo (1540), an unknown woman by Tiziano, a Venetian lady by Veronese (c. 1570) but also outside Italy as in the print of Elector Friedrich III. von der Pfalz with his family or the portrait of a Spanish infanta by Coello, dated to the 1580s.
So the sleeve shape alone could date to anything from about 1540 to 1580s. However, the earlier portraits show a completely different, roughly horizontal neckline, whereas the later (1570s/80s) works show similar necklines, collars and horizontally striped, narrow sleeves. The closest resemblance is with the portrait of an unknown woman ascribed to a follower of Tiziano (let's call her the lady in red). In fact the facial features and the hair line are the same, so the ladies in blue and red may be the same person. According to the museum plaque, the lady in red is ascribed to a follower of Tiziano and estimated to be from the 1580s. On Bildindex, it is attributed to Bronzino and identified as Eleanora die Toledo. However, fashion suggests that the painting is 1570s or later; Eleanora died in 1562 and Bronzino in 1572. Compare the faces:
The middle and right one are quite similar, especially the hair line and eyebrows, both of which are straighter in Eleanora's case. They may be the same person, but in the middle picture we see a small dent in the chin that isn't there in the right one. Sisters, maybe? Let's assume that the picture was painted in the 1570s: Maria de'Medici would have been upwards of 30 years of age. Either the painter felt obliged to flatter or the sitter is not the little girl painted by Bronzino.
On the other hand, the sitter does bear a striking resemblance (nose, mouth, chin) with Eleanora di Toledo. If she's not her daughter, then maybe she is her granddaughter? Assuming that her oldest child was born in 1540, one year after her marriage to Cosimo, she could have been a grandmother by, say, 1558. And indeed, Eleanora's son Francesco had a daughter named Maria, born in 1573, who became queen of France in 1600. When searching for information about her, I came across the above painting twice. Both times it was attributed to Alessandro Allori (a student of Bronzino!), once it was dated to 1555/57 (while at the same time identified as the future queen of France?!) and once to 1588. Does the lady in blue look like 15? Yes, I think she does.
Once again, we have proven that looking at fashion helps avoiding such gross misattributions as the one in Bildindex... and I think we may have found a name for the "unknown lady" in red.
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