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Picture of the Month




An Italian Lady

This is another one of the pictures from the "miscellaneous pictures of unknown origin" directory, i.e. I have to find out the when and where again. It seems that the "Picture of the Month" is becoming a series of lessons in dating and interpreting pictures. But then, why not?

When I first look at a picture - be it a new Picture of the Month or something I get sent along with a request to help dating it (usually by amateur genealogists) - I usually have a rough idea of the time and possibly place at first glance, simply because I have seen something similar while putting together this site. Next, I run the estimated time frame through my picture database to find similar clothing. If that doesn't yield enough, I hit the books.

In the case above, I was at once reminded of various depictions of Venetian ladies of the 1600s. Features to look for are

A rough search in the database for Italian costume 1500-1600 yielded the following:

  1. Venetian Lady (right) by Dürer, early 16th - no, obviously not.
  2. Venetian Bride by Tiziano, 2nd quarter 16th - yes! Same neckline and neckerchief, same white gap, similar hairdo, similar earrings and necklace, similar waistline.
  3. The Artist's daughter by Tiziano, 2nd quarter 16th - yes! Same neckline and neckerchief, same necklace and belt, similar hairdo - but no white gap.
  4. Venetian lady, 1550 - ho, hum. Similar, but not very much so.
  5. La belle nani by Veronese, 3rd quarter 16th - yes! Neckline, patterned sleeves, hairdo and waistline match.
  6. Venetian Bride, 2nd quarter 16th - yes! Neckline, waistline, necklaces and belt match.
  7. Venetian Lady, estimated 1560s - similar, but the collar, hairdo and very deep décolleté don't match.
  8. Venetian Lady, c. 1570 - yes! Neckline and neckerchief, waistline, white gap, hairdo - even the colour is similar.

So, my hunch that this is a venetian lady is supported by a number of pictures. If you run the same search, you'll see that there is a number of pictures of Italian, but not Venetian ladies whose clothing is distinctly different. Apart from the features of dress mentioned above, all Venetian ladies seem to have a certain posture in common which also distinguishes them from other Italian ladies: shoulders back, belly out. The impression is in part due to the cut of the dress, but in some cases - especially in examples 5-8 above - it's really the posture.

The "white gap" also is a distinct feature. I couldn't say what it is. A probable explanation is that we are seeing the shift - especially since the white part seems to be gathered into vertical pleats - , but the shift would be underneath the the corset (and judging from the straight conical shape, there must be a corset) and thus not seen. The edges of the bodice must at least be pinned, if not sewn onto whatever it is that shows white in the gap, otherwise the straight line of the body would be compromised. The horizontal lines seem to suggest that the bodice was laced over whatever the gap is, but if that was the case, you wouldn't only see horizontal lines, but also diagonal ones. Therefore, the lines can not represent lacing. The only thing I can imagine is a kind of stomacher covered with gathered white fabric, or a likewise decorated corset front, with the horizontal lines being some kind of narrow ribbon used to emphasise the gathers.

Almost none of the pictures found have an exact date attached. I couldn't say whether picture no. 3 (necklace, belt) is more similar to our specimen than no. 5 (sleeves, gap) or no. 8 (colour, gap). So the Picture of the Month could be dated to anything from around 1540 to around 1560. No. 8 (dated to c. 1570) may exhibit a conservative style since the portraitee obviously is of a mature age. The artist probably was either Tiziano or Veronese. Picture no. 5. is the only one that exhibits similar, patterned sleeves with a solid-colour bodice and no shoulder rolls, so I am leaning towards ascribing the painting to Veronese and putting it into a 1550-60 time frame.


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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