BOLTRAFFIO, Giovanni Antonio
(b. ca. 1467, Milano, d. 1516, Milano)

Portrait of a Lady as St Lucy

c. 1500
Oil on panel, 52 x 37 cm
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Boltraffio was a pupil and collaborator of Leonardo in Milan and Leonardo's influence is clearly evident in this portrait of an unknown lady. The proportions of the face and the ideal of beauty which it reflects are very close to Leonardesque prototypes: the oval face, large nose, small mouth and large melancholy eyes. This influence is evident not just in the formal elements and the use of chiaroscuro, but also in the psychological penetration of the sitter's character, who seems to be stifling a smile (as do Leonardo's sitters). However, some features differentiate it from the older artist's work, such as the use of a harsher sfumato, which gives the bust a more sculptural character.

The sitter clearly wished to be depicted as St Lucy, holding up the saint's attribute: a pin with an eye on the end. Portraits of this type, known as "portraits in the holy manner", remained customary until the Baroque, and were commissioned by young aristocratic women who wished to invoke their patron saints in order to follow their virtuous example. The sitter's piety is underlined here by the cross around her neck.