RUBENS, Peter Paul
(b. 1577, Siegen, d. 1640, Antwerpen)

Portrait of Maria Serra Pallavicino

Oil on canvas, 241 x 140 cm
Private collection

This large portrait of a noble woman was executed by Rubens during his stay in Genoa.

The fine full-length portraits of ladies from the highest social circles in Genoa possess a pronounced Venetian stamp. This port and trading city was governed by a city oligarchy, consisting of members of aristocratic families such as the Pallavicinis, Durazzos, Grimaldis, Imperiales and Spinolas, who controlled the banking, economy and politics of the republic. These members of Genoese urban aristocracy were painted by Rubens around 1606-07. The portraits have none of the courtly formality that was so characteristic of the Low Countries tradition of portraiture in the manner of Mor and Frans Pourbus II.

In portraits such as that of Maria Serra Pallavicino, the observer is struck by the high degree of realism. Rubens achieved this by a variety of means. He used interrupted backgrounds, where strategically placed porticos and pillars carry the eye of the observer into the distance; the brilliant suggestion of tangibility in the depiction of the costly satins worn by the ladies, the impression they give of arrested movement, and the presence of children dwarves and pets that enliven the decorum of the subject. It is evident that the similar portraiture of Titian, and even more, of Veronese, were the models here. The treatment of colour and light, particularly in the glowing dark red of the ceremonial curtain and the reflections illuminating the dark, mainly brownish, architecture like flashes of lightning, is influenced by Tintoretto's technique.