Note to Rupert - title needs to change
This lady was once believed to be Charlotte Amelia, Princess Rákóczi (1679–1722), but it is more likely that she is Mme de Souscarrière, wife of Jean-Baptiste Bosc, chevalier seigneur de Souscarrière.
Her opulent clothes, the peacock-feather fan and the corsage of carnations all appear in other portraits by Largillierre. Mme de Souscarrière may not herself have owned any part of her costume or indeed the young black page beside her. He has a thick silver collar round his neck to show that he is a slave. He was most probably added both for visual effect and to indicate her wealth, as distasteful as we find this today.
There is a higher quality version of this portrait by Largillierre on long loan to the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne, suggesting that our version may have been made with studio assistance.
When this painting entered our collection in 1924, it was believed to be a portrait of Charlotte Amelia, Princess Rákóczi (1679–1722). The princess appears to have arrived in Paris in 1721 and stayed at the Convent of the Visitation, where she died a year later. However, the lady here does not look like the princess in the portrait painted by David Richter the Elder in 1704 (Magyar Nemzeti Muzéum, Budapest), in which her lips are noticeably fuller and her face longer. Furthermore, the date of 1729 on the version of this portrait by Largillierre in Cologne (on permanent loan to the Wallraf-Richartz Museum), makes it unlikely that it was painted seven years after the princess’s death.
The alternative suggestion is that the lady is Mme de Souscarrière, wife of Jean-Baptiste Bosc, chevalier seigneur de Souscarrière. This is based on a tradition in the family who sold the Cologne version of the portrait in 1990. On 9 February 1728, Mme de Souscarrière’s daughter Marguerite married and it is possible that a ‘mother of the bride’ portrait was commissioned. The connections between the family of Mme de Souscarrière and the slave trade may also in part explain the presence of the young black page in the portrait.
Mme de Souscarrière, if this is she, is opulently dressed with large pearls on her bodice. The gold ornament in her hair, decorated with herons’ feathers and a large baroque pearl, appears very similar to that worn by the sitter in Largillierre’s other portrait in the National Gallery’s collection. Her fan is made of exotic peacock feathers and she wears a corsage of three large carnations pinned to her breast. Her skirt and sleeves are of extremely elaborate golden brown damask embroidered with gold and silver thread and lined with blue silk, and her blue velvet bodice is embroidered in gold. The long maroon velvet robe she wears is lined with luxurious soft brown fur. Her young page wears a large baroque drop-pearl earring, an opulent silk-satin and velvet costume, and a thick silver collar round his neck to show that he is a slave.
The lady’s costume, the peacock-feather fan and the corsage of carnations all appear in other portraits by Largillierre, suggesting that a sitter could choose stock elements to be included in a ‘top-of-the-range’ portrait by him. Mme de Souscarrière may not herself have owned any part of her costume or indeed this particular black page. He was most probably added both for visual effect and to indicate her wealth, as distasteful as we find this today.
The National Gallery’s painting is not as high quality as the portrait in Cologne, suggesting that it may have been made with studio assistance.
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