"Locatelli once said, '...the work on portraits is very interesting because different personalities present a challenge to the painter. Working on a portrait is a true challenge because you try to capture not only likeness but also the spirit of the person who is posing for you.' (Erminia Locatelli Rogers, Romualdo Locatelli: The Ultimate Voyage of An Italian Artist in the Far East, Darga Fine Arts Editions, Jakarta, 1994, p. 14).
Renowned in Asia for his work in Java and Bali, Locatelli was also considered to be one of the finest Italian portraitists, receiving commissioned works from powerful patrons at court and church. The present painting portrays an arresting woman in the full bloom of her beauty. She is reclining on a vermillion settee, her delicate breasts and creamy skin exposed; her hand is holding a fan and her hair is adorned with a peineta and a black mantilla.
A peineta is a large comb, usually tortoiseshell in color, and consists of a curved body and a set of prongs. Used together with a mantilla (a lace or silk scarf that drapes over the shoulders), it is usually worn to weddings, church, dances, and other formal occasions.
In addition to being an Easter tradition, when ladies wore black mantillas, it also became a fashionable fashion statement in Madrid in the 1930s. During this period, fancy weekend-long parties at country houses and dressing up became in vogue among the affluent and fashionable. It is likely that Locatelli had met this mysterious beauty at a similar occasion, and by her steady, bold gaze and playful smile, that the encounter had been a romantic one.
A good portrait is one that communicates with the viewer, revealing something of the subject but holding back, leaving a sense of mystery that is still intimate. La Madrileña (The Woman From Madrid) succeeds to do this on every level. Locatelli's academic training has certainly benefited his talent for aesthetic achievement, but it is his inherent sensitivity and understanding of his subjects that made him an exceptional painter.
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