Portrait of a Young Venetian Woman

Albrecht Durer

Keywords: PortraitYoungVenetianWoman

Work Overview

Portrait of a Young Venetian Woman
Albrecht Dürer
Oil on elm panel
32,5 x 24,5 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Portrait of a Young Venetian Woman is a small bust-length oil on elm panel painting by the German artist Albrecht Dürer from 1505. It was executed, along with a number of other high-society portraits, during his second visit to Italy.

The woman wears a patterned gown with tied-on sleeves that show the chemise beneath. Her hair frames her face in soft waves, and back hair is confined in a small draped cap. The work's harmony and grace is achieved through its mixtures of tones, from her pale, elegant skin and reddish blond hair to her black-and pearl necklace and highly-fashionable patterned dress; all of which are highlighted against a flat black background.[1] It is similar in pose and colour tone to his c 1507 A German Woman from Venice, while at least two studies of Venetian women are known, both of which are very daring. One shows the model with a plunging neckline, the other with bare shoulders.[2]

During his visit to Italy Dürer became fascinated by and befriended Giovanni Bellini, an established master when Dürer was still a relative unknown outside of Germany. The Franconian artist's influence can be seen in this work's soft modeling, dramatic lighting and vivid colours and tones.

The work was not identified as a Dürer original until it was found in a private Lithuanian collection in 1923. The identity of the sitter is lost; however, in dress and hairstyle, she appears to be Venetian, rather than Germanic.[3] The portrait is unfinished; a number of elements, noticeably the black bow above her chest, are not as well described as other passages.

The portrait is one of the first works of the artist during his second sojourn in Venice. It was painted in the autumn or in the winter of 1505. From the portraits, an extraordinary charm emanates, which cannot be merely attributable to the shades of brown and gold of the hairdo and clothing, which are set apart from the uniform black background. It is really the beauty of the portrait that fascinates in its entirety and in its variety of details. It is the slight wave of the hair on the clear, high forehead that imperceivably becomes curls caressing the girl's cheeks. It is the dreamy gaze that shows, under the slightly lowered eyelids, the radiant, black eyes. It highlights the play of light on the forehead and on the cheeks. It is the candour of this face, of the neck and chest, emphasized by a neckline of a contrasting colour, that evoke the image of the ideal purity of a girl. With great ability, the artist includes in this image a long and pronounced nose and large, sensual lips, immersing the whole figure in a light that reveals the important influence of the Venetian school, and, in particular, that of Giovanni Bellini.

With reference to some of the details, it has been repeatedly made known that the portrait is unfinished. It is probable that Dürer deliberately did not give the same intensity to the left ribbon as to the right: on the one hand, so as to not overwhelm the charm of the dark eyes; on the other, so as to support the subtle chromatic effect of the bodice that, from the design of the gold ribbons, contributes to the overall charm of the painting.

This charm is also shown in the movement in the double rows of pearls, interrupted by the darker shapes of doubled cones, making the pendant curve slightly from the neck.

Among Dürer's works, there is not a more beautiful portrait of a woman. Indeed, it has led one to think that there was a rather intimate relationship between the artist and the model. Some see the woman as a courtesan, others define her as an instinctive, languorous, and melting beauty.