Relatively few portraits of actual women survive from Renaissance Venice. More common are poetic images of provocative young women such as Giorgione's Laura (see also, Technical Photographs: Beyond the Naked Eye). This bare-breasted figure framed by laurel branches inspired a series of similar beauties, culminating in Titian's Flora. Their sensuality, free-flowing hair, and semi-undress must have surprised viewers accustomed to seeing women portrayed, if at all, as respectable matrons. Titian's letters indicate that his models were sometimes women of easy virtue, who were not difficult to find in Venice, then famous throughout Europe for its many beautiful and charming courtesans.
The origins of the eroticized half-length portrait are intertwined with amorous descriptions of beloved women found in both classical and contemporary love poetry being published in Venice at this time. Without the constraints of naturalistic portraiture, artists freely invented imaginary beauties. Some have attributes associating them with ancient heroines or goddesses, while others are pure embodiments of the poetic ideal of the perfect woman.