Virtue and Beauty: Leonardo's Ginevra de' Benci and Renaissance Portraits of Women

Virtue and Beauty: Leonardo's Ginevra de' Benci and Renaissance Portraits of Women

by David Alan Brown
     
 

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This beautifully illustrated and exquisitely designed volume of paintings, sculpture, medals, and drawings celebrates the extraordinary flowering of female portraiture, mainly in Florence, beginning in the latter half of the fifteenth century. Included are many of the finest portraits of women (and a few of men) by Filippo Lippi, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Antonio

Overview

This beautifully illustrated and exquisitely designed volume of paintings, sculpture, medals, and drawings celebrates the extraordinary flowering of female portraiture, mainly in Florence, beginning in the latter half of the fifteenth century. Included are many of the finest portraits of women (and a few of men) by Filippo Lippi, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Antonio Pollaiuolo, Botticelli, Verrocchio, and Leonardo da Vinci—whose remarkable double-sided portrait of Ginevra de' Benci, which departs notably from tradition, is the focus of special attention.

It was in Florence during this period that portraiture expanded beyond the realm of rulers and their consorts to encompass women of the merchant class. This phenomenon, long known to scholars, is here presented to a larger audience for the first time. The catalogue, which accompanies an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, traces how the humanist praise of women influenced and enlivened their depiction. It also considers how meaningful costumes and settings were chosen. Works from outside Florence by such masters as Pisanello, Rogier van der Weyden, and Ercole Roberti shed additional light on the evolution of female portraiture during the century from c. 1440 to c. 1540.

An introduction by editor and exhibition organizer David Alan Brown and four engaging essays by other experts on Renaissance art—Dale Kent, Joanna Woods-Marsden, Mary Westerman Bulgarella and Roberta Orsi Landini, and Victoria Kirkham—perfectly complement the more than one hundred illustrations, which include sixty-eight full-color plates. The catalogue entries are concise while revealing the key aspects of each portrait—from style and sources to ongoing scholarly debates. This elegant, enlightening book is itself a telling portrait not only of the art but also of the broader issues of women's freedom, responsibility, and individuality in a most exceptional era.

EXHIBITION SCHEDULE

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
September 30, 2001-January 6, 2002

Author Biography: David Alan Brown is Curator of Italian Renaissance Paintings at the National Gallery of Art.

Editorial Reviews

Time
The catalogue essays give an excellent account of the motives behind the portraits . . . the claiming of sexual and family territory, the presentation of the bride as property, and so on.
— Robert Hughes
Art Newspaper
[A] sumptuously illustrated catalogue.
Burlington Magazine
The reassuringly glossy catalogue is modestly priced . . . and, as an up-to-date work of reference, will easily outlive the exhibition.
— Alison Wright
Woman's Art Journal
The book is useful for its emphasis on the social and cultural elements that determined the purpose and aesthetics of the portraits, and for bringing together such a superb collection of examples to aid in our understanding of how female portraiture developed during the Renaissance. The beautiful illustrations . . . are a treat for the scholar and casual observer alike.
— Lilian H. Zirpolo
The Art Book
[A] beautifully produced book . . . [with] beautiful production values and breathtaking . . . illustrations.
— Victoria Keller
Time - Robert Hughes
The catalogue essays give an excellent account of the motives behind the portraits . . . the claiming of sexual and family territory, the presentation of the bride as property, and so on.
Burlington Magazine - Alison Wright
The reassuringly glossy catalogue is modestly priced . . . and, as an up-to-date work of reference, will easily outlive the exhibition.
The Art Book - Victoria Keller
[A] beautifully produced book . . . [with] beautiful production values and breathtaking . . . illustrations.
Woman's Art Journal - Lilian H. Zirpolo
The book is useful for its emphasis on the social and cultural elements that determined the purpose and aesthetics of the portraits, and for bringing together such a superb collection of examples to aid in our understanding of how female portraiture developed during the Renaissance. The beautiful illustrations . . . are a treat for the scholar and casual observer alike.
Library Journal
Accompanying a major exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, this book is the first on the theme of female portraiture during the Renaissance. Curator Brown and fellow experts on the Renaissance use examples from the work of Leonardo, Lippi, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, and others to conclude that most of the portraits of women during this period were expressions of the wealth of the sitter's husband. The wife's elaborate jewelry and dress symbolized the honor of her husband's social standing rather than her own vanity. At the same time, the portrait of a beautiful woman during the Renaissance also was associated with the Neoplatonic ideal of beauty and its equation to virtue. It is noted, however, that while Leonardo's Ginevra de' Benci and Mona Lisa upheld this ideal of virtue and beauty, they departed from the tradition of depicting women in elaborate dress that reflected social status in favor of a more personal, humanist interpretation of female portraiture. Illustrated with beautiful color reproductions, this highly readable volume is recommended for all libraries with art collections. Sandra Rothenberg, Framingham State Coll., MA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher

"The catalogue essays give an excellent account of the motives behind the portraits . . . the claiming of sexual and family territory, the presentation of the bride as property, and so on."--Robert Hughes, Time

"[A] sumptuously illustrated catalogue."--Art Newspaper

"The reassuringly glossy catalogue is modestly priced . . . and, as an up-to-date work of reference, will easily outlive the exhibition."--Alison Wright, Burlington Magazine

"[A] beautifully produced book . . . [with] beautiful production values and breathtaking . . . illustrations."--Victoria Keller, The Art Book

"The book is useful for its emphasis on the social and cultural elements that determined the purpose and aesthetics of the portraits, and for bringing together such a superb collection of examples to aid in our understanding of how female portraiture developed during the Renaissance. The beautiful illustrations . . . are a treat for the scholar and casual observer alike."--Lilian H. Zirpolo, Woman's Art Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780691090573
Publisher:
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Publication date:
09/10/2001
Pages:
226
Product dimensions:
9.32(w) x 13.22(h) x 1.16(d)

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