UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Chastity and individuality in the renaissance : Lorenzo Lotto’s London Portrait of a woman Goodspeed, Rhona Elizabeth Cliffe


Lorenzo Lotto (ca. 1480-1555/6) made a significant contribution to the development of female Veneto portraiture with the execution of his Portrait of a Woman of ca. 1533 in the National Gallery, London. Here he gave brilliant expression to his unique gift of employing emblematic material to pinpoint the essential meaning of the sitter's presentation of him or herself. The portrait shows the sitter displaying three objects: a drawing, a cartelling bearing a Latin inscription, and a wallflower. Chapter One is a summary of the literature on the portrait. While the theme of the Roman heroine Lucretia, conveyed by the drawing and the inscription — a quotation, as given by Livy, of Lucretia's final words — has at times been recognized as an allusion to the sitter's virtue, writers have focussed rather on aspects of the painting which seem to suggest that the sitter is, in fact, a woman of questionable virtue. Michael Jaffa's important suggestion, made in 1971, that the noblewoman is Lucrezia Valier, who married Benetto Pesaro in 1533, has not been fully explored. Few studies on Renaissance portraiture have been written and literature on the Veneto and Venetian portrait is fragmentary. Chapter Two will provide a summary of elements characteristic of the Veneto portrait and the different types which were popular'there in the years preceding the execution of Lotto's London portrait. As the concepts underlying the male and female portrait fundamentally differed, these two areas will be examined separately. The emblematic portrait was well-developed in the Veneto and Lotto made his chief contribution to portraiture in this area. With his series of life-size portraits of horizontal format, he combined a detailed description of the sitter's environment with allegorical statements about the sitter's virtue. The two most important portraits of this group are the portrait which is the subject of this thesis and the portrait of the collector, Andrea Odoni. Odoni's pursuit of antiquity is defined by sculptures which appear to be natural to his environment but have been invested with symbolic meaning in order to play out a narrative about the sitter. This chapter will provide a background against which to evaluate the innovations of the London portrait. Chapter Three will provide a summary of the roles which could be assumed by the Venetian noblewoman in sixteenth century Venice. Her most important function in society was wife and bearer of noble offspring, and as a result her valuation rested on her chastity, as in fidelity to her husband. An interesting side issue is also raised in this chapter. Within the context of Neoplatonic philosophy, women's importance rested in their beauty, which could assist men on their spiritual journey to truth. Finally, Castiglione's Book of the Courtier, of 1528, and its definition of a new role for women will be considered. For the first time in the Renaissance, it was unequivocally argued that it was appropriate for women to have intellectual attainments equal to those of men. In Chapter Four, the principal motifs of Lotto's London portrait will be examined. Lucretia, the Roman heroine who committed suicide in order to preserve her honour after being raped was a popular figure in the sixteenth century, reflecting a general vogue for antique heroic figures. In connection with portraits, she was often emblematic of chastity and also had a special connection with marriage. Lotto's sitter employs the Lucretia emblems, the drawing and the inscription, to define her own status as a modern heroic exemplar of wifely chastity. The theme of marriage is further played out by other elements. A common association in Veneto female allegorical portraiture was the flower and the bared breast. Drawing upon this iconography, Lotto has employed the flower as a symbol of the sitter's offering of love to her husband, and her bared upper body as an allusion to her procreative role in marriage as well as to her virtue. Another important level of meaning is embodied in the Lucretia emblems — an allusion to the sitter's cultural pursuits. The inscription defines the sitter as having some knowledge of classical history and the drawing, the first to appear in portraiture, may well have been executed by her. Far from being a woman of unsound virtue, the sitter emerges as a woman of outstanding virtue, characterized by ideals appropriate to the Venetian noblewoman of her time. At the same time she conveys an individuality unprecedented in female portraiture.

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