A young woman, wearing a crimson robe and pearl necklace from which a gold cross is suspended, stands in an imaginary architectural setting. An opening into what appears to be a brightly lit courtyard reveals a precarious, twisting flight of stairs. A man in a dark costume stands at the top, apparently watching the woman below.
The inscription above the lady’s right shoulder says she is 19 years old. However, her untucked translucent shawl, sideways glance and bold hand on her hip suggest she might not have been as demure as her cross implies. She may have been a beautiful courtesan.
The picture was possibly made to hang to the left of a painting of a young man, maybe the lady’s betrothed or her lover. This would explain her sidelong glance and the light falling from the right, which is very unusual in Bordone’s work.
An opulently dressed young woman stands in an imaginary architectural setting. She is brightly lit compared to the dark classical columns and bottle-glass window above her. Her dress of crumpled crimson silk has detachable sleeves, which are embroidered with meandering textured bands.The style of the dress, especially the puffs at the tops of the sleeves, suggests a date in the mid- to late 1540s.
The young lady wears a pearl necklace from which is suspended a gold cross with four dangling pearls, and a blue stone or enamel ornament in its centre. Around her waist is an ornamental chain with hollow perforated gold beads between the links. She may be holding a pomander containing sweet smelling herbs, a tiny book, a scent bottle or locket in her hand at the end of the chain.The yellow paint of the gold chain looks dark; it may have become translucent, showing the crimson of the dress beneath. A similar effect can be seen on the right arm of the cross where it is painted over the red dress.
The lady’s facial type and expression, the colour of her flesh, the hatched grey brushstrokes in the shadows around her eyes and under her chin, and the softly boneless anatomy of her left hand are all typical of Paris Bordone’s work. So is the glimmer of light in the lady’s eyes: her irises with their very large pupils are crossed by a short, slightly curved line of white impasto.
In the upper left of the painting is an opening into what appears to be a brightly lit courtyard with an impossibly precarious, twisting flight of stairs. The staircase relates to a design published by Sebastiano Serlio in his book of architecture. A man in a dark costume stands at the top of the stairs apparently watching the woman below. In the nineteenth century the setting was described as a ‘portion of the hospital at Genoa’ and the sitter was said to be a member of the Genoese Brignole family.
The lady appears to have hastily opened her translucent shawl and tucked it carelessly into her dress, revealing her flushed bosom in a way that may have been intended to appear provocative and enticing. Her sideways glance and the bold gesture of her hand on her hip might suggest that she was not as demure as her cross implies.
This is probably the portrait of a particular young woman. It is inscribed ‘AETATIS SUAE / ANN. XVIII’ on the architecture above her right shoulder, showing that she is 19 years old. Another painting by Bordone, the so-called Violante (Alte Pinakothek, Munich), which has a similar bold sideways glance and pose, is now generally regarded as the portrait of a courtesan or of an ideal beauty for which a courtesan modelled.
The National Gallery’s picture may have been made to hang to the left of a painting of a young man, possibly the lady’s lover or betrothed. This would explain the woman’s sidelong glance and the light falling from the right, which is very unusual in Bordone’s work. It may be the portrait of ‘a most lascivious woman’ sent by Bordone to Ottaviano Grimaldi with Grimaldi’s own portrait (Palazzo Rosso, Genoa).
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