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Portrait of a Young Woman

Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion

Portrait of a Young Woman

Culture: Italian
Medium: Chalk on paper
Dimensions:
Image: 6 7/8 x 4 5/8 inches (17.5 x 11.7 cm)
Sheet: 11 1/8 x 8 1/2 inches (28.3 x 21.6 cm)
Mat: 18 x 14 inches (45.7 x 35.6 cm)
Classification: Drawing
Credit Line: Museum purchase, funds provided by Alfred M. Hunt in honor of Douglas M. Knight
Label Text:A theme that played a strong role in Early Modern western art (c. 1450-1800) was the search for the ideal human form. This is evident in the early 16th-century Portrait of a Young Woman attributed to the Florentine artist Francesco d’Ubertino Verdi, called Il Bachiacca (pronounced eel Bah-kee-AH-kah). Portraits during this time served to venerate the patron himself or, in the case of female portraits, his wife. Such is the case with the image attributed to Il Bachiacca, who lived in a society built upon what Patricia Simons calls a ‘display culture.’ Simons asserts that a wealthy woman’s portrait was not only designed to convey her wealth and status, but also her purity, piety, and obedience; her inner virtues were conveyed through her physical attributes. That she was an untouchable object of beauty was a strong status statement for her husband. According to scholar Heather Holian, this imagery allowed husbands to display their dominance over their passive wives. In both instances, the body was used to celebrate the beauty of the human form.

In contrast, later artists used the human figure to convey gritty realities rather than utopic visions of the world. For example, Goya’s etching, Muertos recogidos (#8), depicts a mass of unburied bodies, carelessly thrown into a pile. The artist uses the human body—or rather, the human corpse—to comment on the tragic chaos that results from war. Having lived through Napoleon’s occupation of Spain from 1808-1814, Goya witnessed firsthand the cruel atrocities of which man was capable. This heap of human remains is, according to writer Siri Hustvedt, “not abstract or aesthetic: they are truly ghastly.” Goya hopes to shock the viewer into seeing reality. Goya created, as John Parks describes, some “of the most poignant anti-war images ever made.” He did not idealize the body; he used it to show the abuse, suffering, and tragedy that stems from war.
Provenance: [Paul Drey Gallery, New York]; puchased 1971 by Duke University Museum of Art, now Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.
Object number: 1971.14.1