Portrait of the woman
Piero del Pollauiolo (Piero di Benci, 1443 - 1496), ca. 1470
Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan, Italy

It is simple remarkable portrait of unknown woman painted by Piero del Pollauiolo around 1470. His name was delivered from the profession of his father. Jacoppo, artist's father, was alleged to have been a poulterer ( in Italian "pollaio" means hen coop), thought he was probably a goldsmith.
Piero was active mainly in Florence where, together with his older brother Antonio, run a prosperous workshop. Two brothers collaborated consistently, and sometimes it is difficult to determine their individual contributions. Antonio was talented goldsmith, sculptor, engraver and superb draftsman, teacher of Sandro Botticelli (1445 - 1510) and Andrea Sansoverino (1467 - 1529), while his slightly less gifted brother, Piero, was a skillful painter of mythological and religious scenes. He was also a taken portraitist. The Pollaiuolo brothers worked in the magic circle of Lorenzo's di Medici charisma.

Before 15th century the commissioned painted portraits of individual sitters were rare and appeared mostly as donors in religious paintings or patrons within larger composition. Thus it is certainly correct to say that portraiture was an invention of Renaissance. Renaissance development of portrait and portraiture opened also the possibility for women to be seen outside the constraints of their domestic environment. Early Renaissance profile portrait was a subject of fashion and artistic conventions (Leon Battista Alberti in his treatise "On painting" (Della pittura) 1435). It emphasizes the beautiful lines of the sitter's physiognomy. The elegance of the aquiline nose and overly long neck, the firmness of the chain and the smoothness of the forehead became the subject of adoration. The stark sidelong view of sitter's head allude to the profiles on Roman coins.
The beauty was the accepted convention of Renaissance woman. Thus Renaissance portrait of woman stress on her physical beauty rather than her individual features of personality. Her individual psychological qualities (character, personality ) and identity (name, profession, age or social class) are not depicted at all or are hidden deeply behind such qualities as her social role, chastity, modesty and moral virtues.
The one of the reasons why the portrait of individual gained such popularity in Renaissance time and later arose probably from the fact that portrait could be exchanged, used as a symbolical instrument of friendship, used as a prominent gift or simply as a subject of collectibility. Noted example is a famous collection of woman portraits, "beauties". owned in 1473 by Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan, where many portraits from his collection were gifted him by his courtiers, allies or friends.
The great number of the Renaissance portraits carry no traces of painter signature, details about the subject, and place or date the portrait was created. Over a period of time the woman name, if the portrait depict woman, could be forgotten and today the her name cannot be fully identified. She remains for us as anonymous woman, beauty whose name was replaced by vague title " La bella" or simply " Portrait of the woman" She became to be rather a model or allegorical symbol of beauty then the likeness of individual woman. From the mid of XVIth century onwards the labels to indicate the age of the sitter, the date the portrait was produced and other pieces of information about the sitter and the painter were provided by the owner. In many cases the information on the label was misleading. The authenticity of information provided by these labels became a subject of research.

Presented here a portrait of a lady, attributed to Piero del Pollauiolo or perhaps created by the collaboration of Pollauiolo brothers, belongs to the long list of Renaissance portraits of woman vaguely titled "Portrait of woman", "Portrait of a lady" or shortly "La Bella". Our portrait depicts a young woman whose name has also been forgotten over centuries. Though an inscription, discovered during XIX century restoration identified the woman as the wife of the Florentine banker, Giovanni de Bardi, her first name still remains unknown. The portrait created ca. 1470 according to the Early Renaissance artistic convention shows the classical beauty of woman left profile. The profile of her head outlined with a thin black contour resembling relief separates the figure from the light blue background (which may evoke the sky), while the slightly turned towards the viewer chest crates a sculptural impression. Her fashionable in the mid of XVth century Florence, low neckline dress exposes her chest down to the top of her cleavage. Her precious jewelry indicate that she must have belonged to the wealthy Florentine aristocracy. Her head-dress is typical of 15th century Florentine ladies. She is wearing a transparent veil, a traditional part of woman hair-dress, which covers her ears. The "honey-comb" plait in her golden hair is delicately highlighted by rope of middle size pearls. Another rope of small pearls falls onto her forehead in the way the Florentine women used to wear. The necklace composed of an equal beauty white and black pearls tightly entwines her shapely neck. A particular beautiful pendant made of rubies in gold setting enhances her bust. It may be that her green dress made of magnificently embroidered fabric represents the product of the embroiderers employed in Pollauiolo brothers workshop. The effect of the light which reflected on the lady' hair and pattern of her sleeves portrayed in great detail reveal the influence of Flemish painting combined with Florentine pictorial style.

However, the individualism and personal traits of the subject have been omitted "The portrait of woman" strongly emphasizes the status of the sitter, as well as her social obligations and necessary physical elegance to be a wife of Florentine aristocrat. Her shapely profile can be seen on both "The portrait of the woman" and silhouette as a logo of the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan, Italy where the Piero's painting is exhibited.

There are at least three other similar in size and used technique profile portraits of woman which came from the Pollauiolo's brother workshop: Berlin Museums, Metropolitan Museum of art in New York and Uffizi Museum in Florence.

Portrait of the woman, by Piero Pollaiolo, ca. 1470

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