National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Portrait of a Young Woman as a Wise Virgin Sebastiano del Piombo (artist)
Venetian, 1485 - 1547
Portrait of a Young Woman as a Wise Virgin, c. 1510
oil on hardboard transferred from panel
overall: 54.7 x 47.5 cm (21 9/16 x 18 11/16 in.) framed: 77.5 x 69.4 x 7.3 cm (30 1/2 x 27 5/16 x 2 7/8 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
On View
From the Tour: Giorgione and the High Renaissance in Venice
Object 6 of 7

The story of the wise and foolish virgins is told in the biblical book of Matthew. Preparing for marriage, five wise virgins carefully provided oil for their lamps and awaited the bridegroom. Five foolish virgins, on the other hand, missed the bridegroom when they left their homes in search of more oil. The parable was often interpreted in terms of the Last Judgment and the need to be constantly prepared for the Second Coming.

Otherwise unusual for early sixteenth-century Italy, this subject would have had obvious significance for brides, and this painting is possibly an idealized portrait intended as a wedding gift. A faint inscription on the painting has often been interpreted as a reference to Vittoria Colonna, a poet best known for her friendship with Michelangelo. Perhaps the painting was done to commemorate her wedding in 1509. Several seventeenth-century editions of her works used engravings based on this painting as a frontispiece.

Vittoria, however, lived in Rome, and Sebastiano worked in Venice until 1511. Furthermore, paintings like this one were more popular in Venice than in Rome. Venetian works depicting beautiful young women with locks of hair tumbling to creamy shoulders and revealing necklines may have been idealized portraits or fanciful creations painted for a gentleman’s private enjoyment. The models for these bellezze may well have been the fabled courtesans of Venice.

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