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Sebastiano del Piombo: 'Portrait of a Lady'
On loan from Longford Castle collection, © Private collection. Used by permission

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The sitter's assured stance, proud gaze and magnificent costume suggest that she was a prominent figure of her time.

In the pieces of cloth she holds out is concealed a Latin inscription warning the viewer of the risks of love: 'Sunt Laquei Veneris Cave' ('These are the snares of Venus: beware'). These words may be an allusion to Venus' magic girdle, which had the effect of making its wearer irresistibly desirable and was borrowed by Juno to seduce Jupiter. The inscription refers more broadly to the power of love to capture and enslave its victim.

This portrait, admired for its compelling subject and superb quality, may date from the last seven years of the artist's life. The style of the costume, and particularly the head-dress, evoke the fashion of the 1540s.

In this painting Sebastiano returned to the three-quarter length format of his earlier works, which confers to the figure a strong sense of monumentality. Although the identity of the sitter is uncertain, various names have been suggested, such as the countess Giulia Gonzaga, famed throughout Italy for her intellect and beauty.

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