In 1440 through 1540 female portraiture in Florence thrived beyond the realm of rulers and their consorts to encompass women of the merchant class, who figure in a number of panel paintings, medals, and marble busts.
The Renaissance portraits differ in many ways from portraits today. First of all, they lack the psychological dimension which is characteristic for modern portraiture. A Renaissance portrait represents a different conception of identity of a model. In the case of women, they were seen in light of their social status and familial roles as wives and mothers.
Viewing their portraits, one might conclude that Florentine women of the time all had long necks, golden hair, pearly white skin, sparkling blue eyes and rosy lips and cheeks. Such similarity reflects a canon of female beauty originated from literature, most especially Petrarch's sonnets in praise of his beloved Laura. With the real or imagined beauty of their female subjects, artists celebrated their virtues--modesty, piety, chastity, the main qualities of a woman in a patriarchal society. Virtue and beauty were inseparably bound.
The earlier portraits represent the sitter in strict profile, wearing lavish costumes and jewelry of the sort that young women donned on the occasion of their marriage.
Filippo Lippi's "Woman with a Man at a Window" (1438-44) is the earliest independent portrait of a woman from Florence that has survived. Arms at the bottom left are of the Scolari family. Lorenzo di Ranieri Scolari married Angiola di Bernardo Sapiti in 1436. Their son was born in 1444.
In Northern Europe, the three-quarter view, revealing more of the sitter's face, prevailed. Perhaps because of the possibilities the three-quarter view offered for psychological exploration and communication with the viewer, it was adopted in Florence in the 1470s in the work of Leonardo da Vinci.
In his portrait of Ginevra, recently betrothed and seeming older than her 16 years, he breaks with the profile convention to depict the sitter in three-quarter view silhouetted against a bush of juniper (ginepro in Italian, a punning reference to Ginevra's name). The background of the reverse is a trompe l'oeil slab of porphyry - a precious stone that, in this context, signifies the everlasting nature of the patron's love or of Ginevra's virtue. The three-quarter pose, which shows her steady reserve, is among the first in Italian portraiture, for either sex.
Botticelli's stunning painting of a young woman traditionally identified as Simonetta Vespucci Simonetta Cattaneo de Vespucci (1453-1476), she was the wife of Marco Vespucci of Florence. She also has been alleged to have been the mistress of Giuliano de' Medici, Lorenzo the Magnificent's younger brother.
The picture seems to be an ambitious attempt to express the Petrarchan ideal, rather than to portray a real person.
In the 16th century, frontal views of portrait sitters became common, and these were combined with more-elaborate settings and a more-psychological approach. Agnolo Bronzino's "Portrait of a Lady" presents a dignified sitter with the faintest of smiles playing on her lips.
Giovanna married Lorenzo Tornabouni on June 15, 1486. She gave birth to a son, Giovanni, in October of 1487, and she died in childbirth in October of 1488The cartellino on the back wall is adapted from an epigram by the Roman poet Martial. It can be translated as:
"Art, would that you could represent character and mind. There would be no more beautiful painting on earth."
Men's Portraits of the 15th Century
Men's Portraits of the 16th Century