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Giorgione's "Laura" 1506; Courtsean Or Marriage Portrait?

1608 words - 6 pages

Giorgio da Castelfranco, c.1476-78 - 1510, better known as Giorgione, was a Venetian painter of the Italian High Renaissance. He lived a short life, passing away from the plague during his thirties, leaving behind a small, but beautiful compilation of compositions. One of his most famed works is Portrait of a Woman 1506 (Figure1.) also known as Laura. This painting has mystified art history scholars with its interpretation of the sitter's identity for centuries. Was this a portrait of Venetian courtesan or a marriage portrait of a respectable Venetian woman? Despite the credible evidence which support the interpretation that Laura represents a marriage portrait, this paper will argue that a visual interpretation of Giorgione's painting undeniably presents Laura as an artistic portrayal of a sixteenth century courtesan. One of the most significant features of Giorgione's Laura which serves as a symbol to the sitter's identity is the presence of the laurel. The inclusion of laurel functions to support alternate interpretations; more prominently that the painting is a portrait of a courtesan, yet not dismissing it as a marriage portrait of a Venetian woman.Foremost the name 'Laura' suggested by the laurel branch which frames the sitter's head echoes the use of a pun on the sitter's name. For instance, in both Leonardo da Vinci's Portrait of Ginevra de'Benci c.1480 (Figure 2.) and Antonio Pisanello's Portrait of Ginevra d'Este 1438 (Figure 3.) the identifying feature of the juniper bush behind the woman's head acts as an allusion to her name 'Ginevra' where the Italian word for juniper is genipro. Additionally, 'Laura' was one of the most common names taken by courtesans of the sixteenth century in Venice, thus the laurel could be suggestive of the sitter's trade as a courtesan. Laurel was also identified as a symbol for literary accomplishments. For that reason it may also be a reference to the sitter's achievement as a poet during a time when courtesans were intellectually accomplished individuals in music, poetry and witty conversation. For instance, take the legendary Venetian courtesan Veronica Franco; a woman who possessed a notable degree of education and self-assurance, she actively participated in a literary academy of Domenico Venier and was patronized by Henry de Valois prior to his reign as King Henry III of France. Not only was she a mistress fulfilling sexual pleasure, but also an associate of some of the most intelligent men in Venice and of many of the great families.Venetian courtesans of the sixteenth century were wealthy members of society and highly educated women of letters far removed from the lower class prostitutes and common 'whores'. They were among the few women in Venice who although not popular among women's social circles acquired the freedom and sophistication to read and write. Respectable women depicted in marriage portraits on the other hand were primarily viewed in light of their social status...

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