The young girl, whose name is not known, is shown turned towards the viewer in a three-quarter pose. The view offers a more direct engagement with the sitter than was possible in more traditional profile view portraits.
Though probably idealised as was common in portraits at this time – particularly ones of women – her features betray something of her character: perhaps we can read determination in the small but prominent chin. This was important, as portraits were thought to stand in for the sitter’s whole being – appearance and personality – even after their death.
The picture can be dated to about 1490 on the basis of her hairstyle. It was once thought to be by Sebastiano Mainardi, brother-in-law of the Florentine artist Ghirlandaio, but it is not close enough to his style to be sure. It is more likely the portrait was made by an unknown member of Ghirlandaio’s workshop, in his style.
In the mid-fifteenth century, portraits of women began to change. Until this point sitters would be depicted in profile, a distant and formal pose drawn ultimately from ancient Roman coins. The young girl here, whose name is not known, is turned towards us in a three-quarter pose, revealing more of her face and allowing us to engage with her more directly. By using a view that is closer to one experienced in real life, the portrait is transformed from an image to an encounter with the individual portrayed.
Though probably idealised as was common in portraits at this time – particularly ones of women – her features betray something of her character: we might read determination into her small but prominent chin. Portraits were thought to stand in for a person’s whole being – appearance and personality – even after their death.
When this picture was purchased in the 1870s, the sleeves of the girl’s outfit had been overpainted; this was removed to reveal their original deep green colour. The girl’s hairstyle, which was fashionable in about 1490, and her clothing are very similar to a portrait of Selvaggia Sassetti attributed to Domenico Ghirlandaio’s brother Davide (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). The portrait was once thought to be by Sebastiano Mainardi, Ghirlandaio’s brother-in-law, but it is not close enough to his style to be sure. It is more likely the portrait was made by an unknown member of Ghirlandaio’s workshop, in his style.
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