Virtue and Beauty

Filippo Lippi, Woman with a Man at a Window, c. 1438/1444

Filippo Lippi, Woman with a Man at a Window, c. 1438/1444, tempera on panel, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Marquand Collection, Gift of Henry G. Marquand, 1889


The Bridal Portrait

Early Renaissance portraits lack the psychological dimension characteristic of modern portraiture as they reflect a different conception of identity. In the case of women, the individual was seen in the light of her social status and role as wife and mother. Consequently, most female portraits were probably occasioned by the sitter's marriage, for which the ideal age was sixteen; men usually delayed marriage until their thirties when they could better shoulder the responsibility of a new household. Arranged by the families of the betrothed, marriages entailed a huge financial commitment in the form of the bride's dowry, which consisted of a gift of money plus a luxurious wardrobe. As the family's status depended on projecting a public image of financial success, the amount spent on the bride's clothes could represent a significant share of her family's worth. The groom responded with a counter-dowry of equally lavish clothing and jewelry.

The earliest independent portrait from Florence to survive is Fra Filippo Lippi's Woman with a Man at a Window, which has been plausibly identified as portraying a young woman named Angiola Sapiti who married into the Scolari family in 1436. Most unusually, this painting includes a secondary portrait of a man, evidently her husband Lorenzo, whose hands rest on the Scolari coat of arms. As many wealthy Florentines owed their prosperity to the wool and silk trade, not surprisingly their female portraits feature the glories of that production. Angiola's opulent costume, with a velvet dress, fur-trimmed overdress, elaborate headdress, and brooches, annnounced the wealth of the Sapiti-Scolari alliance, making the painting as much a portrait of the dowry and counter-dowry as it is of the young couple. Most female portraits seem to date from the first years of marriage, after which time civic laws dictated that women should dress more soberly and refrain from wearing jewelry.


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