Anonymously engraved around 1812, Galerie de tableaux du prince Lucien Bonaparte, no. 2.
The painting had been considered to be a work by Titian's hand since its earliest mention in the Riccardi inventories, but the attribution was questioned by Crowe and Cavacaselle in 1877, and it was attributed to Girolamo Romanino by Bernard Berenson in 1901 (see Literature). The painting was subsequently published as Bernardino Licinio by a number of scholars. This attribution, however, is incidental and based on a superficial similarity in composition and costume type typical of that artist. More recent scholarship has rejected this idea, noting the quality as superior to Licinio. Indeed, the fluid and confident handling of the Portrait of a Lady is more typical of Titian, leading more recent scholarship to reconsider an attribution to the master himself. The beautiful articulation of the hand and sleeve lower left and the impressionistic rendering of the jewelry are particularly compelling.
While the identity of the noblewoman depicted has yet to be isolated, her clothing provides some clues to her social standing and to the date of the painting’s execution. She wears a gown of rich damask and the sumptuous figured textile is lavishly lined with fur which escapes in spurts from the decorative slashes and front. The dry and exceptionally painterly description of the fur is typical of Titian and recalls his treatment of the lynx stole worn by Isabella d’Este (1474-1539), Marchesa of Mantua, in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (fig. 2) which likewise dates to circa 1534-36. The neckline of the gown is cut wide and low and the sleeves are slashed, billowing from the shoulder and becoming tighter from elbow to wrist, consistent with styles popular in the 1530s. The voluminous cap, called a balzo, and the heavy gold paternoster girdle were fashionable accessories in Venice at that time. The noblewoman wears a long string of pearls, which were tremendously costly, interrupted at intervals with gold beads. Pearls were synonymous with purity and it is notable that the sitter should be depicted so conspicuously winding them in her fingers. Her attire can be compared to that of the unknown lady in Bernardino Licinio’s Portrait of Woman Holding a Portrait of a Man in the Museo d’Arte Antica del Castello Sforzesco, Milan (fig. 3; inv. no. 28) which dates to around 1625-30.3 Much like the Licinio portrait, the accessories worn by the sitter here likely signify her married status. As Andrea Bayer writes, the paternoster belt was “a piece of jewelry associated with the bonds of marriage” and extravagant items such as this and the pearl necklace might form part of a wedding trousseau or be offered as a betrothal gift.4
We are grateful to Mauro Lucco, who has seen the present painting firsthand and believes it to be an autograph work by Titian himself.
1. H. Keutner, under Literature.
2. G. de Juliis, under Literature, p. 58, footnote no. 17.
3. For the Licinio portrait see A. Bayer, Art and Love in Renaissance Italy, New York and New Haven 2008, p. 270-271, cat. no. 125, reproduced.
4. Ibid., p. 270.
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