As a fan of both Parmigianino and Joshua Reynolds, today’s discovery of this long-lost red-chalk drawing is especially exciting.
It’s a sketch for his famous The Madonna of the Long Neck (1535-40, currently at the Uffizi in Florence), i.e. the painting that everyone gets in their survey class to illustrate the tenets of Mannerism. The drawing itself is a series of studies, not really a full sketch of the entire work, but double sided and extremely telling of the artist’s creative process.
(Image taken from the Art Newspaper article cited above.)
What’s cool about this is that while it was missing for 30 years, it was found right where it was supposed to be. It was in the earlier edition of Popham’s landmark catalogue raisonné of Parm’s drawings that the exact location was listed, not, as could be expected, in the more frequently consulted and accessed 1971 edition that only named the institution. Thanks to someone doing research on works of art found in Joshua Reynolds’s personal collection (at the Met, no less), was he able to track down this important drawing’s location as it was at one time the property of Reynolds. It was listed in the 1953 edition as being “bound in a ‘1792 grangerised Bible’ from Augustin Daly,” which upon further investigation, was found exactly where it should have been: on the shelves at the library of the Huntington.
I think it’s always cool when two worlds collide, in this case with one of the greatest Mannerist painters and a seemingly unrelated, yet prolific in his own right (and many others) painter from the eighteenth century. It’s a small world, even when you take into account all the hundreds of years of art that has been produced.
Make sure and read the whole article from The Art Newspaper above (or here if you don’t want to scroll up again).
Jacopo Pontormo (maybe Bronzino?), Portrait of a Woman in Red, 1532-35. Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt.
I remember this painting from my undergrad survey class (or maybe it was Italian Renaissance?), mainly because we had spent the better part of two hours looking at mainly Florentine portraits in profile from the 1400s, which as great as they are, can get a bit monotonous (yes, women were being displayed as being pieces of property owned by their husbands. Yes, their overly idealized features meant that they weren’t true, representational depictions of the sitters. YES, we understand that pursed lips and dead gazes were supposed to insinuate modesty). So you can imagine my surprise when this painting popped onto the screen and the prof said that it was painted in the 1530s.
I was stunned! This painting was used to show the shift from profile portraiture to 3/4 view and, while I won’t go into all of the gender politics of such portraiture, I can say that I was floored by the modernity of this picture. From the modeling of the facial features, to the subtle variations of the colors and the well-executed chiaroscuro, to even the cut of the gown: everything screamed post-1800 to me.
(An example of a profile portrait, Botticelli’s Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci, 1476-80, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.)
This brings me to the subject of this post, namely the dress of our lady in red (
whom I always thought was a Medici, but I think I’m wrong about that who might be a Medici descendant or a member of a family closely allied to them). Two of the things that sent my costume-focused mind reeling were the full sleeves and the high waistline. They are both features that were common in women’s dress from the 1830s (with a slight resurgence in the 1850s). See this example from the V&A’s collection:
Obviously, there are some distinct differences with the Italian version: the dress seems to be multifaceted, with a blouse under the red jumper-like overdress. The black sleeves don’t seem to part of the red capped part, but instead seem to be an undershirt. These thing aside, the overall shape of the gowns, with the puffy sleeves and off-the-shoulders neckline, are strikingly similar and definitely recall each other. From the portraits that I have seen from the Florentine cinquecento, dresses like this aren’t so common. Dresses from Lorenzo Lotto’s paintings bear certain similarities in my mind, but, besides the fact that he wasn’t active in Florence, the waistlines were lower and a bit more consistent of the picture that I have of Renaissance dress. This raises several questions, but I’m sure many of them could be answered by just a tiny bit more of research, so I’ll hold off on posing them (I’m the furthest thing from being an expert on Renaissance dress, so I feel like I’m slightly out of my league here).
One more fun fact about our sitter’s clothing is that the color scheme recalls that of the heraldic colors of two families that were associated with the Medici family (this woman might have been Francesca, the granddaughter of Lorenzo the Magnificent). Red and white were the colors for the Salviati family, while red was the dominant color featured in the Cybo coat of arms. For more information, check out the exhibition catalogue for the 2004 show Pontormo, Bronzino, and the Medici: The Transformation of the Renaissance Portrait in Florence (Philadelphia Museum of Art, cat. no. 24). It provides some good information on the questions surrounding the identification of the sitter, which I find to be absolutely fascinating.
In any case, it’s interesting to compare examples and see how costume from the 1830s could be influenced by fashion that preceded it by three hundred years, whether or not it was intentional. Time travel aside, it’s also fascinating to see how specific types of clothing can vary within a certain period.
Special thanks to James Clifton of the Blaffer Foundation for help in my quest to identify the sitter.