Portrait of a Lady known as Smeralda Bandinelli
- Place of origin:
Florence, Italy (painted)
Sandro Botticelli, born 1444 - died 1510 (painter (artist))
- Materials and Techniques:
tempera on panel
- Credit Line:
Bequeathed by Constantine Alexander Ionides
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Sandro Botticelli (1444/5-1510) was trained in Florence in the studio of Fra Filippo Lippi and joined the Compagnia di S Luca in 1472. Botticelli made the most of his career in Florence under the patronage of the Medici although he was summoned to Rome by Pope Sixtus IV in 1481, together with Ghirlandaio and Cosimo Rosselli, to join Perugino in decorating the walls of the Sistine Chapel. From ca. 1490, his style changed quite significantly due to a deeper crisis of style and expression. As a result his style soon waned and he died in poverty in Florence in 1510. Among his assistants and pupils were Filippino Lippi (ca.1457-1504), Bartolomeo di Giovanni (active 1488-ca.1500) and Jacopo del Sellaio (ca. 1441-1493).
This painting is a typical example of Botticelli's early portraits. The identity of the sitter, Smeralda Bandinelli, wife of Viviano Bandinelli and grandmother of the 16th century sculptor Baccio Bandinelli, derives from the inscription on the window frame. She wears a summer at-home costume comprising a white silk or linen camisa generously cut as the many folds at the neck and sleeves show; a 'cotta' of red silk, slit and laced fashionably at the forearms to reveal the 'camisa'; and, overall, a 'gonella' or summer overgown of sheer gold edged fabric with loose cuffs and open from the waist to show the silk beneath.
A three-quarter portrait of a woman before a window, putting one hand on its frame and holding an handkerchief in the other, in a reddish simple dress with a white headgear; behind her a column before a window is on the left while a half-closed door is on the right.
Place of Origin
Florence, Italy (painted)
Sandro Botticelli, born 1444 - died 1510 (painter (artist))
Materials and Techniques
tempera on panel
Marks and inscriptions
'Smeralda di . . . Bandinelli moglie di Vi. . . Bandinelli' 'Smeralda di . . . Bandinelli wife of Vi . . Bandinelli'
'(from the Pourtalès collection). Portrait of Smeralda Bandinelli painted by Sandro Botticelli. The property of D. G. Rossetti, 16 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea.'
'the inscription at the bottom of the picture reads: "Smeralda di . . . Bandinelli moglie di . . . Bandinelli". The two male Christian names are illegible. The portrait evidently represents the same head which appears in the central personage of Botticelli's "Spring" at Florence.'
Height: 65.7 cm estimate, Width: 41 cm estimate, Height: 87 cm frame, Width: 62 cm frame, Weight: 18 kg with frame, Depth: 94 mm frame
Object history note
Pourtalès Collection, sold Paris, March 1865 (3,400 francs); Colnaghi, sold Christie's, 23 Mar. 1867, lot 1970, Howell, £20 for D. G. Rossetti; 1880 sold by Rossetti to Constantine Alexander Ionides - for £315 (300 guineas); bequeathed by Constantine Alexander Ionides in 1900.
Historical context note
The attribution of this painting, certainly a good example of early portraits by Botticelli probably executed during the early to mid-1470s, was much discussed in the past few decades. It was accepted as an autograph work by Ulmann (1893), Kroeber (1911), Bode (1921), Schmarsow (1923), Van Marle (1931), Gamba (1936) Salvini (1958), Kauffmann (1973) and Lightbown (1978) but dismissed by Plunkett (1900), Horne (1908) and A. Venturi (1925). Formerly rejected by Berenson in 1899, he finally admitted it in 1932.
It shows the portrait of a woman, bust-length in three-quarter profile, in a domestic interior. The sitter is traditionally identified as Smeralda Bandinelli, wife of Viviano Bandinelli and supposed grandmother of the famous 16th-century sculptor, Baccio Bandinelli (1488-1560). Baccio bandinelli the Younger is probably responsible for the additional inscription on the window frame, (Rubin in London, 1999-2000, citing Waldman; Hegener 2008), confirming that the work was, at that time, owned by the Bandinelli family.
The sitter's marital status can be confirmed by the column in the window, which was a common symbol of fortitude and constancy, the most important virtues requested in a wife. The half-closed door in the background may allude to the cloistered existence of the women in the Florentine society. An analogous configuration appears in Botticelli’s portrait of Giuliano de’ Medici in Washington, probably painted shortly after his murder in April 1478.
The sitter wears a loose-fitting cotton dress, known as a ‘guarnello’, over an expensive red gown called ‘gamurra’, and a customary ‘camisa’ or chemise. Her only jewellery is a simple necklace, and her hair is demurely dressed under a linen headgear. In many ways this portrait corresponds to the canonical representation of women during the 15th century, partly influenced by the Petrarchian ideal of beauty: blond hair, red lips and pale complexion.
These portraits differ in many ways from the notion of portraiture commonly held today as they especially aimed to represent an idealised image of the sitter and reflect therefore a different conception of identity. The sitter's likeness was more or less recognisable but his particular status and familiar role were represented in his garments and attributes referring to his character. The 16th century especially developed the ideal of metaphorical and visual attributes through the elaboration of highly complex portrait paintings in many formats including at the end of the century full-length portraiture. Along with other devices specific to the Italian Renaissance such as birth trays (deschi da parto) and wedding chests' decorated panels (cassoni or forzieri), portrait paintings participated to the emphasis on the individual.
However unlike traditional 15th-century Florentine portraits which favoured stiff and static profile portraits, Botticelli’s sitter looks out at the beholder while her gesture, a hand resting on a window frame, mimes an attempt to interact with her surroundings. In doing so, Botticelli may have responded to examples of Flemish portraiture, which typically revealed more of the face and used fictive windows as frame. This representation does not reflect either the social convention of female portraiture, which required depicting their eyes lowered as a sign of modesty and obedience. The austere Franciscan moralist San Bernardino (1380-1444) even exhorted women to ‘bury [their] eyes’.
It has been suggested by Stefan Weppelmann (2011), citing Zollner (2005), that the sense of movement and directness in the portrait is evidence of Botticelli's intention to produce a life-like image, which could in turn suggest that the painting has a possible memorialising function. The separation of the sitter from the viewer by the window frame is thought to indicate the separation from the viewer after the death of the sitter. Weppelmann also suggests that the panel's uncommonly large size could suggest an official purpose related to memoria.
The subject-matter of CAI.100 brings to mind especially section XXXV of Dante's Vita Nuova called 'La donna nella finestra' (The lady at the window):
'...I paused thinking deeply, and with sad thoughts, so much so that it made me seem to have an aspect of terrible distress...Then I saw a gentle and very lovely young lady, who was looking at me so pitifully from a window, showing so much in her face that all pity seemed concentrated in her...And so I decided to write a "sonetto", in which I would speak of her...(Vita Nuova, The New Life of Dante Alighieri, A.S. Kline tr., London, 2001).
It is possible that Botticelli had Dante’s model in mind as he was among the most erudite artists of his time. In the 1490s Botticelli worked on a major cycle of illustrations to Dante's Divine Commedy, and it is likely that he would also have been familiar with Dante's Vita Nuova.This coincidence appears to have been clearly apparent to a 19th century owner of the painting, Dante Gabriele Rossetti, as in 1879 he painted a picture of a beautiful half-length young woman at a window (now Harvard University Art Museums) with the title 'La Donna nella Finestra', clearly derived from Botticelli (See Gail S. Weinberg, in Burlington Magazine CXLVI (Jan 2004) pp. 20-26).
Oil portrait of Smeralda Bandinelli, Sandro Botticelli, 1470s
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
David Alan Brown, et al., Virtue and Beauty: Leonardo's Ginevra de' Benci and Renaissance Portraits of Women, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2001, no. 25, pp. 172-74.
Misspells the sitter's name as 'Smeralda Brandini'; notes possible sources for the three-quarter profile in the work of Fra Filippo Lippi and Andrea Verrocchio.
Patricia Lee Rubin and Alison Wright, Renaissance Florence: The Art of the 1470s, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery, 1999, no. 83, p. 327.
Catalogue entry notes that, apart from the innovation of the three-quarter profile, Botticelli's decision to paint Smeralda dressed simply and in a comparatively active posture was groundbreaking.
Gail S. Weinberg, 'D. G. Rossetti's ownership of Botticelli's "Smeralda Brandini" [sic]', Burlington Magazine CXLVI, no. 1210, January 2004, pp. 20-26.
Also misidentifies the sitter as 'Smeralda Brandini'. Focuses on Rossetti's acquisition of the painting from the Pourtales collection; mentions uncertainties about the original purchase price and also provides details of the sale of the painting to Constantine Alexander Ionides.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti: His Family-Letters, with a memoir by William Michael Rossetti, London, 1895, vol. 1, p. 264.
A brief entry on the painting; W. M. Rossetti credits his brother's purchase of it with starting the Botticelli revival.
Early Italian Art, from 1300 to 1550, exhibition catalogue, The New Gallery, 1893-4, no. 110, p. 21.
Brief descriptive entry on the painting, which is listed as being lent by Constantine Ionides.
William Michael Rossetti, Rossetti Papers, 1862 to 1870, London, 1903, p. 228.
Notes that '[Rossetti] has painted on the back of the head of his Botticelli, and improved it very sensibly -- the previous condition of this part of the picture being obviously wrong, and I understand injured in a previous cleaning.'
John Bryson and Janet Camp Troxell, eds., Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Jane Morris: Their Correspondence, Oxford, 1976, pp. 110 and 152.
In the second letter, Rossetti laments having to sell the painting to Ionides, although he remarks sarcastically, ' The idea of selling pictures you dont [sic] have to paint is certainly a very great one'.
Ronald Lightbown, Sandro Botticelli, London, 1978, vol. 2, no. B15, pp. 28-29.
Gives a detailed family history of Smeralda Bandinelli, her husband and descendants.
Cosmo Monkhouse, 'The Constantine Ionides Collection', Magazine of Art, p. 210.
'It, with its glimpse of the gallery of an Italian palace of the Fifteenth Century, is a page of social history, a bit of genre as well as a portrait, and last but not least it is a masterly piece of tempera-painting in perfect condition. (...)'
100 Great Paintings in The Victoria & Albert Museum, London: V&A, 1985, p.28.
The following is the full text of the entry:
"Sandro Botticelli 1444/5-1510
Italian (Florentine) School
SMERALDA BANDINELLI, GRANDMOTHER OF THE SCULPTOR
BACCIO BANDINELLI, c.1471
Tempera on panel, 65.7 X 41 cm
CAI. 100. Ionides Bequest.
This is a typical early Botticelli portrait and the identity of the sitter is firmly established by the inscription on the window frame.
The sitter wears a summer at-home costume comprising a white silk or linen camisa, generously cut as the many folds at the neck and sleeves show; a cotta of red silk, slit and laced fashionably at the forearms to reveal the camisa; and, overall, a gonella or summer overgown, of sheer gold-edged fabric with loose cuffs and open from the waist to show the silk beneath.
Sumptuary laws, first introduced in Italy in the early 14th century, attempted to limit extravagant dress. Smeralda would have been allowed only two overgowns of silk in her wardrobe and only one overgown dyed with the rare red kermes dye we see here. The approved garments would have been marked and would have been worn for at least three years.
Over her shoulders and tucked into the neckline is a sheer silk kerchief. As befitting a young married woman, another covers her neatly confined hair. This kerchief should also be sheer but seems to have been overpainted in the 19th century. A delicate metalwork necklace of the type popular in the late 15th century circles her neck. She holds the white, embroidered handkerchief of a refined lady. Less wealthy women wore similar clothes, only cut less fully and of coarser materials.
The window shutter projecting strangely through an opening behind her may, with the column, shallow setting, and uneven number of lacings at her wrists, add up to a personal symbolism of the kind seen in other Botticelli portraits.
Her quiet dignity recalls the contemporary description by Lorenzo the Magnificent of his Ideal Beauty: 'Her beauty, as I have said was wonderful ... the tone of her complexion was white yet not pallid, fresh yet not glowing. Her face was grave yet not proud, sweet and pleasing, not frivolous or lighthearted. Her eyes were animated and motionless with no trace of conceit or meanness ... She dressed in those fashions which suited a noble and gentle lady ... ' (J. Herald, Renaissance Dress in Italy, 1400-1500, London, 1981, p.157-8)
This sort of beauty appealed to another poet 400 years later: The Pre-Raphaelite poet and admirer of Botticelli, Dante Gabrielle Rossetti. Rossetti purchased the portrait in 1867 when Botticelli had just been 'rediscovered'. He sold the painting in the early 1880's, probably to Constantine Ionides, who bequeathed it to the Museum.
Kauffmann, C.M., Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 37-39, cat. no. 37.
The following is the full text of the entry:
"Sandro BOTTICELLI (1444/45-1510)
Italian (Florentine) School
Born in Florence in 1444 or '45, Sandro Filipepi, known as Botticelli, was a pupil of Fra Filippo Lippi and was also influenced, particularly in his early work, by Andrea del Verrocchio. An independent master from about 1467, he worked mainly in Florence and was the favourite painter of Lorenzo and Giuliano dei Medici. In 1481-82 he was in Rome working on his frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. In his last years he came under the influence of Savonarola.
SMERALDA BANDINELLI, GRANDMOTHER
OF THE SCULPTOR BACCIO BANDINELLI
Tempera on panel
25 7/8 X 16 1/8 (65.7 X 41)
The traditional ascription to Botticelli was never questioned until 1899, when Berenson attributed CAI.100 to 'Amico di Sandro'. This was his name for an unknown artist who, he claimed, was the true author of certain paintings of the 1460s and '70s hitherto attributed to Filippo Lippi, Botticelli and Filippino Lippi. Doubts having been expressed, it was subsequently listed as a school work by Plunkett (1900) and in Horne's great book (1908), though even at this time its authenticity was vigorously defended by H. T. Kroeber (1911).
1921 saw the publication of Bode's Botticelli and with it the virtual destruction of 'Amico di Sandro'. Several of the paintings attributed by Berenson to this artist, including Smeralda Bandinelli, were re-assigned to Botticelli. Nearly all subsequent authorities have confirmed Bode's opinion, and in his list of 1932 Berenson himself dropped the 'Amico' and gave Smeralda back to the master. This painting fits well with Botticelli's other portraits. For example the so-called Caterina Sforza (Altenburg Museum) and the Young Man formerly in the Museo Filangieri, Naples, have similar architectural features that appear to have the sitter closely hemmed in on all sides. This convention was derived from Botticelli's teacher, Filippo Lippi (M. Pittaluga, Filippo Lippi, Florence, 1949, figs. 72-3).
The dating has varied, but there can be little doubt that it is an early work of about 1471. This date fits with the approximate age of the sitter.
On the back of the picture are two labels with inscriptions in the hand of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who owned it from 1867 until about 1880:
(I) '(from the Pourtalès collection). Portrait of Smeralda Bandinelli painted by Sandro Botticelli. The property of D. G. Rossetti, 16 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea'.
(2) 'the inscription at the bottom of the picture reads: "Smeralda di ... Bandinelli moglie di . . . Bandinelli". The two male Christian names are illegible. The portrait evidently represents the same head which appears in the central personage of Botticelli's "Spring" at Florence.'
The inscription referred to appears, somewhat oddly, on the window-sill at the bottom of the picture. Rossetti's reading can be accepted, with the addition of 'Vi . .' as the opening letters of the husband's Christian name. Smeralda Bandinelli may be identified as the grandmother of Baccio Bandinelli (1488-1560), the Florentine sculptor. She was born Smeralda Donati and was the first wife of Viviano de Gajuole, a craftsman in metals (maniscalco), who had settled in Florence shortly after 1450 and married a few years later. Their first son, Michelangelo, the goldsmith and father of Baccio, was born in 1459. (Vasari, ed. Milanesi, vi, pp. 133,196). However, the family was not called Bandinelli until Baccio adopted the name in about 1530, in an attempt to prove his descent from the Sienese nobility. The inscription, therefore, with the anachronistic name Smeralda Bandinelli, must have been added after c. 1530. It has even been suggested (Ulmann) that it is purely apocryphal, but as Smeralda was a person of relative obscurity, not even mentioned in the pre-Milanesi editions of Vasari's life of Baccio, it seems unlikely that she would attract the hand of a forger. Probably Smeralda was the sitter and the inscription added by way of formal identification by a member of the family in the later 16th or 17th century. As her first child was born in 1459 one could place the date of her birth c. 1440-43, which would mean she was about thirty when the portrait was painted.
Neither Rossetti's suggestion that Smeralda 'represents the same head' as Botticelli's Spring, nor that of Schmarsow, that she may have served as a model for his Fortitude (Uffizi) is very convincing. These are all early works, and the resemblance can best be explained as being due to the artist's style at that time.
Acquired in 1867 by Rossetti (who is said to have retouched the back of the head), this picture has an honourable place in the 'rediscovery' of Botticelli, which occurred in England from about 1860 and which culminated in his hero-worship by the later Victorians.
Condition. Considerably retouched, particularly on the face and hair.
Prov. Pourtalès Collection, sold Paris, March 1865 (3,400 francs); Colnaghi, sold Christie's, 23 Mar. 1867, lot 1970, Howell, £20 for D. G. Rossetti; c. 1880 sold by Rossetti 'to a friend' - probably Ionides - for £315; before 1884, Constantine Alexander Ionides, bequeathed to the Museum in 1900.
Exh. Early Italian art, New Gallery, 1893-94, no. 110.
Lit. (B. = Botticelli). Monkhouse, 1884, repr. facing p. 210; H. Ulmann, S. B., 1893, p. 56 f., repr, (autograph, early 1480s); B. Berenson in Gazette des Beaux Arts, xxi, 1899, p. 459 f., xxii, 1899, p. 21 ff., esp. p. 26 f., repr. (Amico di Sandro, c. 1476); ibid., The study and criticism of Italian Art, i, 1901, p. 60 f.; ibid., The Florentine painters of the Renaissance, 3rd ed., 1909, p. 100 (same views repeated); Count Plunkett, S. B., 1900, p. 103 (probably a school work); H. P. Horne, S. B., 1908, p. xii (school); H. T. Kroeber, Die Einzelporträts des S. B., 1911, p. 28 ff., pl. viib (autograph, c. 1485); W. von Bode, S. B., 1921, p. 106 f., repr, p. 110 (autograph, early work); ibid., B., K d. K, 1926, pl. 42 (c. 1475); K. Escher, Malerei der Renaissance in Italien, i, 1922, p. 158 (autograph); Schmarsow, S. del B., 1923 (autograph, c. 1470); Long, Cat. Ionides Coll., 1925, p. 5 f., pl. 3 (school); Adolfo Venturi, B.. 1925, p. 117 (school); Y. Yashiro, B., 2nd ed., 1929, p. 196; R. van Marle, The development of the Italian Schools of painting, xii, 1931, p. 42 (autograph); Berenson, Italian pictures of the Renaissance, 1932, p. 104 (autograph, an early work); ibid., Italian painters of the Renaissance, 1952, pl. 211; C. Gamba, B., 1936, p. 110, pl. 34 (autograph, c. 1471); L. Venturi, S. B., 1937, pl. 20 (autograph, c. 1478); J. Mesnil, B., 1938, p. 22 (autograph); E. Pucci, B., 1955, p. 95 f., repr. (autograph, early work); R. Salvini, Tutta la pittura del B., i, 1958, p. 43 f., pl. 36 (autograph, c. 1471); C. Bo, L'opera completa del B., 1967, p. 88, no. 32 (autograph, c. 1471); B. Wadia, B., 1968, pl. 15.
On Rossetti's ownership see: D. G. Rossetti, his family letters, with a memoir by W. M. Rossetti, i, 1895, p. 264; W. M. Rossetti, Rossetti Papers, 1862-70, 1903, p. 228; H. Rossetti Angeli, Pre-Raphaelite twilight, 1954, pp. 61 f., 64, 66; M. Levey, 'B. and 19th century England' in J. W. C. I., xxiii, 1960, p. 301."
Gasparotto, Davide and Gigli, Antonella, Il tondo di Botticelli a Piacenza, Milan, Federico Motta, 2006, pp.23 and 26.
Mary Rogers, 'Sonnets on female portraits from Renaissance North Italy', Word & Image, Vol. 2, no. 2, Oct-Dec 1986, pp.291-305.
(For further references on the subsequent relationship between sonnets and female portraiture in Italy between 1485-1550.
M. Ajmar-Wollheim and Flora Dennis ed., At Home in Renaissance Italy, exh. cat., The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2004, p. 13, fig. 1.3
Gesichter der Renaissance. Meisterwerke Italienischer Portrait-Kunst Munich, Hirmer, 2011, p. 112-113, [cat. no. 14], illus.
Keith Christiansen and Stefan Weppelmann, eds. The Renaissance Portrait, From Donatello to Bellini New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011, pp. 112-114, illus.
Alison Luchs, 'Verrocchio amd the Bust of Albiera degli Albizzi: Portraits, Poetry and Commemoration', Artibus and Historiae, no. 66, XXIII (2012), pp. 75-97, fig. 7, p.82
Alessandro Cecchi, Botticelli, Milan, 2005, p. 118 and 122 illus.
Caterina Caneva, Botticelli, catalogo completo, Florence, 1990, cat.20, p. 43 illus.
Nicoletta Pons, Botticelli, catalogo completo, Florence, 1989, cat.25, p. 58, illus.
At Home in Renaissance Italy (Victoria and Albert Museum 05/10/2006-07/01/2007)
Renaissance Florence: The art of the 1470s. (National Gallery (London) 20/10/1999-16/01/2000)
Virtue and Beauty: Leonardo's Ginevra de' Benci and Renaissance Portraits of Women (National Gallery of Art, Washington 30/09/2001-06/01/2002)
Early Italian art (New Gallery 01/01/1893-31/12/1894)
Constantine Alexander Ionides
Portrait; Window; Door; Bandinelli, Smeralda