Constructing social identity in Renaissance Florence: Botticelli’s ‘Portrait of a Lady’
Lisa Y. Frady
University of Arizona: Master of Arts, History (2001
Botticelli’s Portrait of a Lady (Smeralda Brandini ) (c. 1471) is representative of a largely uninvestigated tendency in Italian Renaissance portraiture to depict female sitters without sumptuous clothing, jewelry, and heraldic devices. Traditionally, these visual cues had been used to construct the elevated social identity of portrait sitters. This study scrutinizes a work within a neglected portion of Botticelli’s oeuvre, examining the ways in which its modest, and somewhat ambiguous, visual cues also construct its sitter’s elevated social identity, while simultaneously protecting it. This analysis seriously considers a portrait of a woman who is not famous, nor an idealized beauty, nor an allegorical figure. It explores her image, its functions, and its multiple layers of meaning within the confines of late-fifteenth century social relationships, gender roles, and the original domestic viewing context of Renaissance portraits (considering their public display, as well as their relationship to Marian imagery, within the home).
Introducing the Portrait, the Problem, and the Painter
Arguably, the figure portrayed in Portrait of a Lady (Smeralda Brandini) (c. 1471; 65.7 X41 centimeters; tempera on wood), by Sandro Botticelli (1444/5-1510), leaves no overwhelming impression on her modem viewers.’ The space in which she is depicted consists of a rather stark domestic interior; her attire, of simple garments – no sumptuous baubles or precious gems adorn her form. It appears as if she has little to say, particularly to the art historian looking for overt visual cues that might imbue her with art historical, let alone social, significance. As a result, this portrait is rarely addressed within the confines of Botticellian scholarship.