Make Sure You Get My Good Side, Please

by articulatenyc

Fra Filippo Lippi (Florence, ca. 1406-1469, Spoleto), Portrait of a Woman and a Man at a Casement, Ca. 1440-44 Tempera on wood 25¼ x 16½ in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Marquand Collection, Gift of Henry G. Marquand

Currently on view at the Met is an exhibition entitled Renaissance Portraiture From Donatello to Bellini, which includes various examples of Italian portrait busts,  ¾ length portraits and profile portraits from the 15th century.  The collection features a who’s who of the Italian Renaissance A-list, including Lorenzo il Magnifico, Isabella d’Este, and Filippo Strozzi. Amongst the most interesting works in the collection are the portrait busts such as those by Verrocchio and Mino da Fiesole, which carry on the ancient Greek tradition of the noble reliquary bust. Other highlights include Botticelli’s portrait of the beautiful Simonetta, as well as Sperandio’s bronze portrait medallion of Federico da Montefeltro. In the exhibition, you’ll notice that most of the male profile portraits are taken from the right side, while the female profile portraits are taken from the left side. Federico, however, made a point to have his portraits taken from the left side because of an injury that he sustained during battle which caused him to lose his right eye, along with part of the bridge of his nose. Therefore, one can’t fault poor Federico for exercising a bit of vanity.

My personal favorite work in the exhibition, however, is Fra Filippo Lippi’s Portrait of a Woman with a Man at a Casement (1406). If you have visited the exhibition or are familiar with Italian Renaissance portraiture, you may have noticed that there are (a) not very many available portraits of women, and (b) the women featured in portraits are often not wearing very much jewelry. What I learned from reading Adrian Randolph’s article, “Performing the Bridal Body in Fifteenth Century Florence”, is that specific pieces of jewelry such as a head brooch or shoulder brooch (like we see here) are an indication that the portrait is in fact a bridal portrait. Husbands would often commission portraits of their new wives, in which they would wear the jewelry given to them as part of their dowry or trousseau. These jewelry pieces communicated to the public that the woman was recently married and that, essentially, she was now indebted to her husband (sexually, domestically, financially) and his family.

So, pay close attention to these Renaissance portraits (on view at the Met until March 18) because they offer a lot of insight into the fashion, political culture, and relationship/gender dynamics of Renaissance Italy.

What would your portrait say about you?

What would it say about our culture as a whole?

Image provided courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art