This is so bizarrely fascinating. Seriously. The fact that museum employees during the 1800s did things like this is just… weird. But even more interesting is the whole process that the Carnegie Museum curators and conservations went through to find out who the sitter actually was, as well as the fact that they took the painting to a medical x-ray clinic for scanning (love it!).
And even more awesome is that the sitter, Isabella de’ Medici, is Maria Salviati's granddaughter! The previous attribution was Eleanor of Toledo, who was Maria's daughter-in-law (and whose portrait I have a postcard of pinned to the bulletin board above my desk).
It’s really cool to see how standards of beauty fluctuate over time. Apparently while she was alive, Isabella was considered to be a quite the looker. I personally can see how that might have been, especially considering not only what people thought was attractive at the time (i.e. double chins, high hairlines, tightly clamped lips), but also that this could be just a less-than-talented artist who wasn’t all that great at capturing likenesses. It happens! Sometimes you get five different portraits of the same person where they look completely different in each one. Anyway, lots of interesting aspects to consider!
The painting is currently on view at the Carnegie Museum of Art’s exhibition Faked, Forgotten, Found, which sounds pretty great. So if you’re in the Pittsburgh area between now and September 15th, stop by and check out the show!