Profile of a woman facing left thumbnail 1
Profile of a woman facing left thumbnail 2
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 64, The Wolfson Gallery

Profile of a woman facing left

Tempera Painting
ca. 1500 (painted)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This is one of 28 anonymous panels, painted around 1490-1500, which originally decorated the ceiling of a Lombard palace. They represent profile heads and coats of arms, enclosed within decorative borders. The heads repeat three generalised types with minor variations: seven of young women with Lombard hair styles facing left, as in this panel, six of young men wearing bonnets facing right, six Roman emperors within roundels facing left, and four facing right. Such decorative panels decorated the leading edges of the wooden joists which supported the flat, grid-like ceilings in the principal rooms of fifteenth century Lombard palaces.

The identifiable arms are those of the North Italian noble families of Vimercati and Malatesta. It is likely that these panels were commissioned to commemorate the wedding of Francesco Vimercati of Crema to a lady of the Malatesta family , which probably occurred sometime after 1487. Vimecati had a distinguished career as a Podesta, or principal magistrate, in several major North Italian cities, including Mantua, Reggio Emilia, Lucca and Florence. The location of his residence is unknown, but as two palaces of other members of Vimercati family in Crema have similar ceilings, it is likely that it was also in his native city of Crema, near Milan.


object details
Category
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Tempera on spruce panel
Brief Description
Profile of a woman facing left : one of 29 panels painted on spruce
Physical Description
Profile of a woman facing left. One of 29 panels painted on spruce
Dimensions
  • Height: 45.5cm
  • Width: 45.8cm
  • Depth: 4cm
Measured for the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries
Style
Object history
Palace of Francesco Vimercato (?), Crema

Bought in 1901



Historical significance: Text by A.E. Eze:

"The portraits are so divided:

1325 to 1331: seven portrait busts of a lady facing left [FL]

1332 to 1337: six portrait busts of a man facing right [MR]

1338 to 1343: six portrait busts of Roman emperors facing left [EL]

1344 to 1347: four portrait busts of Roman emperors facing right [ER]

1348, 1350, 1353 : arms of the Vimercati [V]

1351, 1352: arms of the Malatesta [M]

1349: arms of Francesco Vimercati's mother? [VM]



Francesco Vimercati is known to have married a member of the Malatesta family at about the same time these panels were painted, and so it is believed that the series originally decorated his palace marking this marriage alliance. Consequently the third unidentifiable arms has been attributed to Francesco Vimercati's mother.
Historical context
Text by Anne-Marie Eze:

"In the 15th century, palaces and castles situated in the Lombard plain were, almost all without exception, built in brick with timber ceilings. In and around Milan a flat, grid-like ceiling, was favoured. Its appearance was created by the suspension of a wooden membrane of framed shallow panels below the joists of the ceiling. Whereas in Lodi, Pavia, Cremona, Crema, Brescia and Mantua, the coffered ceiling was predominantly in use. Its structure consisted of joists, supported by wooden brackets inserted into the wall, spanning the width of the room at about 2.5 m intervals. Lying on top were smaller joists set at right angles, running at regular intervals down the length of the room. The spaces left above the major and minor beams were closed, for practical and aesthetic reasons, by rectangular boards set at an angle facing downwards.



It is not known when decoration of these inclined panels began, but by the 14th century the boards were being painted with simple geometric and floral motifs. The following century saw an increase in the size of the panels to accomodate new, more sophisticated motifs including hunting scenes, astrological series, religious, mythological and historical subjects, potraiture and heraldry. Their enlargement was enabled by the raising of the minor beams onto corbels. The diagonal groove in the side of the minor beam in which the panel was slotted continued into the side of the corbel thus increasing the height of the space available. The bottom edge of the panel fitted in a groove on top of the major beam.



The body of the ceiling was divided into squares by wooden listels which also surrounded the inclined panels, and the whole ceiling was painted. The background colour of the ceiling, including major and minor beams and brackets was often light grey enlivened with simple geometric patterns in bright colours such as blue, scarlet, bright green and gold. A darker colour scheme of brown picked out with gold was also used.



By the mid-15th century, the most commonly used decorative scheme for the panels in noble households consisted of rows of portraits in profile and armorial shields. Generally this type of decoration was carried out to mark a marriage, and so one finds the coat of arms of the owner and his new bride and their portraits in profile with different hairstyles, headwear and clothing. For 'genealogical' ceilings, the likeness of the couple's parents, relations, patrons and also historical or cultural figures whom they admired would be included. The inclined panels were framed by painted Gothic or Renaissance-style arches and columns, cartouches, scrollwork and plants. Less frequently, these frames were not painted but carved into the panel. If there was an odd number of panels, a single coat of arms belonging to the owner of the house , occupied the central space in every row, sometimes alternating with that of his wife. Otherwise, the shield of the owner was flanked by those of his wife and mother, as in the case of a surviving ceiling in the first two rooms of a bank in Crema which were formerly part of Ottaviano Vimercati's palazzo. If there was an even number of panels, just the coats of arms of the owner and his wife were used, although the shields of ther relatives, patrons and important visitors could also feature. Ninety panels from a palazzo belonging to another branch of the Vimercati family are mounted in rows of three, both flat on the walls and facing down at an angle from the ceiling, in the Lombard Rooms of the Museo Poldi Pezzoli in Milan. Although the arrangement of portraits surrounding the coats of arms of the Vimercati and Zurla families is probably quite authentic, the method of mounting is misleading as it gives no indication of their original location between the beams of a colourful coffered ceiling."
Summary
This is one of 28 anonymous panels, painted around 1490-1500, which originally decorated the ceiling of a Lombard palace. They represent profile heads and coats of arms, enclosed within decorative borders. The heads repeat three generalised types with minor variations: seven of young women with Lombard hair styles facing left, as in this panel, six of young men wearing bonnets facing right, six Roman emperors within roundels facing left, and four facing right. Such decorative panels decorated the leading edges of the wooden joists which supported the flat, grid-like ceilings in the principal rooms of fifteenth century Lombard palaces.



The identifiable arms are those of the North Italian noble families of Vimercati and Malatesta. It is likely that these panels were commissioned to commemorate the wedding of Francesco Vimercati of Crema to a lady of the Malatesta family , which probably occurred sometime after 1487. Vimecati had a distinguished career as a Podesta, or principal magistrate, in several major North Italian cities, including Mantua, Reggio Emilia, Lucca and Florence. The location of his residence is unknown, but as two palaces of other members of Vimercati family in Crema have similar ceilings, it is likely that it was also in his native city of Crema, near Milan.
Bibliographic References
  • C.M. Kauffmann, Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800 London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 172-74, cat. no. 213.
  • W. Terni de Gregory, Pittura artigiana Lombarda del Rinascimento, Vallardi, 1981.
  • P. Thornton, The Italian Renaissance Interior 1400-1600, London, 1991.
  • A. Mottola Molfino, The Poldi Pezzoli Visitor's Guide, Turin, 2000.
Collection
Accession Number
1325-1901

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record createdDecember 18, 2006
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