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Titian, Portrait of a Lady ('La Schiavona')

Key facts
Full title Portrait of a Lady ('La Schiavona')
Artist Titian
Artist dates active about 1506; died 1576
Date made about 1510-12
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 119.4 × 96.5 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Presented through the Art Fund by Sir Francis Cook, Bt., in memory of his father, Sir Herbert Cook, Bt., 1942
Inventory number NG5385
Location On loan: Masterpieces from the National Gallery, Chimei Museum, Tainan City, Taiwan
Collection Main Collection
Portrait of a Lady ('La Schiavona')

Titian painted this picture when he was in his early twenties, at a time when private portraits of individual women were still rare. We don‘t know the identity of the sitter, if indeed this is a portrait in the traditional sense, rather than a general picture of a woman designed to encourage such commissions. The title La Schiavona, meaning ’the Dalmatian woman‘, was given to the picture in the seventeenth century.

’La Schiavona‘ is self-possessed and has a commanding gaze unlike any woman in an earlier European portrait. Titian’s approach is original not only because the painting is three-quarter length and apparently life-sized but also because it was painted to make an impact from a distance.

The profile bust portrait, inspired by ancient Roman sculpture and cameos, appears to represent the sitter herself but may commemorate a member of her family. It may relate to the contemporary debate about the rival merits of painting and sculpture. The letters ’T.V.' inscribed on the parapet stand for Tiziano Veccellio (Titian).

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