L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Portrait of an Unknown Lady, by an unknown artist, probably Italian, circa late 1780s

A very fashionably dressed woman of indeterminate age sits at a table on which rests a cabinet filled with casts of ancient carved gems. In one had she holds a magnifying glass, and in the other a framed cast. Castings of intaglio carved gems were often collected along with (or instead of) the actual antique - and often very costly - engraved stones. For the student of the art form, they had the advantage of bringing out detail difficult to see in the original, and were often duplicated in sets. The rolled sheets of music and the paintbrush may also be allusions to the lady's other very cultured pursuits.

Like so many paintings of unknown sitters by unknown artists, this one finds much of its charm in a delicate balance of awkwardness and refinement. She's not a pretty woman or, at least in the pose the painter gave her, very graceful. But she's elegantly dressed and well-groomed. And she chose to have the symbols of her scholarly interests included in her portrait; posterity may not know her name, but we know a good deal about her, nonetheless.

The lace and ribbon and embroidery are beautifully described, while the ostrich feathers are quite naïvely done.
A fragment of text - Quell' occhietto lang[uido] non mi (that languid little eye, not to me) - is discernible on the scrolled music.
The flat gold rings of the chain from which the portrait miniature is suspended are exquisitely realized.

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