Without the 16th-century costume or the bust's ovoid shape, we might be tempted to ascribe these starkly realistic features to a conservative matron from Republican Rome, not the gilded republic of Renaissance Venice. And without the mantle loosely resting on her shoulders, we might mistake the sitter for a peasant, not a wealthy patrician. The elderly lady's intelligence and toughness are evident, her chin elevated in pride above a stout neck. The flesh of her face, with its asymmetrical features, seems to bear the imprint of experience and age.
The unknown Venetian artist deftly captured the enduring vitality and mental acuity of his elderly subject—qualities that reflect what we know of her life. Agnesina Badoer Giustinian (c. 1472–1542) was a wealthy heiress and art patron. One of three children of Venetian patrician Girolamo Badoer, Agnesina lost both her brothers and first husband early in life. When her father died in 1497, she became the universal heir of her Badoer line and its fortune, including a residence in Venice and extensive properties on the mainland. She was remarried the same year to the patrician Girolamo Giustinian. From 1511 to 1513 Agnesina and her husband focused their energies on construction of an impressive villa—Castello di Roncade—on Badoer ancestral lands near Treviso.  They also raised the nine children Agnesina bore, two from her first marriage.  From the couple's tax declarations it is clear that Agnesina's wealth and property were much greater than her spouse's.  Her abiding attention to family interests and thorough management come across in the details of her wills, where she forever forbade her children from selling, trading, or otherwise alienating the villa and other properties.  In 1509 she also stipulated that, should she die before him, her husband could live on and enjoy her estate only as long as he did not remarry and have more children. 
This startlingly realistic portrait is probably based on a mask of Agnesina's face taken at the time of her death, at about the age of 70.  The sagging lip may reflect the earlier stroke she is known to have suffered.  Since a terracotta bust of Agnesina, also with her head veiled, is still housed in the chapel of her country house at Roncade, the death mask was most likely commissioned by her children as an act of piety and to provide a fitting memorial in the family chapel. Later, the mask was evidently used again for a more personal commemoration by one of her heirs, resulting in this stunningly vital effigy, one of the few realistic bust portraits of a Venetian from the first half of the 16th century.  The unknown sculptor's dependence on the death mask perhaps limited the degree to which his own style as a sculptor is evident in his work, which may explain why his identity remains unknown. His skill, however, is revealed in the degree to which he has enlivened the cast features. 
1. The Villa Giustinian at Rocade (New York, 1977), 14-15.2. C. Lewis, 288, Table 1. 3. C. Lewis, 15. 4. C. Lewis, 12. 5. C. Lewis, 14. 6. Alison Luchs, Tullio Lombardo and Ideal Portrait Sculpture in Renaissance Venice, 1490-1530 (Cambridge, 1995), 113; Douglas Lewis "The Sculptures in the Chapel of the Villa Giustinian at Rocade, and Their Relation to those in the Giustinian Chapel at San Francesco della Vigna" Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorishen Institues in Florenz 27 (1983), 338. 7. D. Lewis, 338. 8. Luchs, 113. 9. Bruce Boucher, The Sculpture of Jacopo Sansovino, II (New Haven, 1991), 371, n. 116.
Frédéric Spitzer [1815-1890], Paris; (his estate sale, Paris, 17 April - 16 June 1893, no. 1457); Oscar Hainauer [1840-1894], Berlin; by inheritance to his wife, Julie Hainauer, Berlin; purchased 1906 with the entire Hainauer collection by (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris); sold May 1907 to Peter A.B. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; gift 1942 to NGA.
- Bode, Wilhelm. "La sculpture." In La Collection Spitzer. Antiquité -- Moyen Age -- Renaissance. 6 vol. Paris, 1890-1892: 4 (1892):96, 114, no. 15, repro., as Buste de Femme Agée.
- Bode, Wilhelm von, ed. Die Sammlung Oscar Hainauer / The Collection of Oscar Hainauer. [bound as one volume, English and German pages interleaved in one page sequence] Berlin, 1897 and London, 1906: 20-21, 76, no. 101, as Portrait of an Old Woman.
- Molinier, Émile. "La Collection Hainauer." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 18, n. 3 (December 1897): 500-501, as Buste de vieille femme.
- Migeon, Gaston. Musée national du Louvre: Catalogue des bronzes et cuivres du moyen age, de la renaissance et des temps modernes. Paris, 1904: 129, no. 107, as Veilleuse.
- Bode, Wilhelm. "Two Venetian Renaissance Busts in the Widener Collection, Philadelphia." The Burlington Magazine 12, n. 56 (November 1907): 86, repro. 90, 91.
- Works of Art from the Widener Collection. Foreword by David Finley and John Walker. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 9, as Portrait of an Old Woman.
- Swarzenski, Georg. "Some Aspects of Italian Quattrocento Sculpture in the National Gallery." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 6th series, 24 (November 1943): 302.
- Duveen Brothers, Inc. Duveen Sculpture in Public Collections of America: A Catalog Raisonné with illustrations of Italian Renaissance Sculptures by the Great Masters which have passed through the House of Duveen. New York, 1944: figs. 227-228, as Bust of an Old Woman.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1948 (reprinted 1959): 127, repro., as Portrait of an Old Woman.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 172, as Portrait of an Old Woman.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 152, repro., as Portrait of an Old Woman.
- "The Names Have Been Changed to Protect the Innocent." The Washington Post (Tuesday, August 5, 1975): B5.
- Lewis, Douglas. "The Sculptures in the Chapel of the Villa Giustinian at Roncade, and their Relation to those in the Giustinian Chapel at San Francesco della Vigna." Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 27, n. 3 (1983): 335, 337-344, figs. 29, 31.
- Boucher, Bruce. The Sculpture of Jacopo Sansovino. 2 vols. New Haven and London, 1991: 2:no. 115, 370-371, fig. 391.
- Avery, Charles. Renaissance and Baroque Bronzes in the Frick Art Museum. Pittsburg, 1993: 65, fig. 12.2.
- Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1994: 229, repro.
- Luchs, Alison. Tullio Lombardo and Ideal Portrait Sculpture in Renaissance Venice, 1490-1530. Cambridge, England, and New York, 1995: 113, fig. 205.
- Lewis, Douglas. "Jacopo ritrattista: il problema dei busti sansoviniani." In Guido Beltramini, Andriano Ghistetti Giavarina and Paola Marini, eds. Studi in onore di Renato Cevese. Vicenza, 2000: 343-349, fig. 15.
- Lewis, Douglas. "The Villa Giustinian at Roncade: Tullio Lombardo or Fra Giocondo? The evidence of a newly recognized marble banqueting table of c. 1515 for the atrium." Annali di architettura 22 (2010): 45-62, fig. 17.
- Frank, Mary Engel. "'Donne attempate': Women of a Certain Age in Sixteenth-Century Venetian Art." 2 vols. Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton University, 2006: 1:iii, 107-175, 300, fig. 11, 86.