CLOUET, François
(b. ca. 1510, Tours, d. 1572, Paris)

A Lady in Her Bath

c. 1571
Oil on wood, 92 x 81 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Only two signed paintings by François Clouet are known to exist, of which this, generally regarded as one of the great masterpieces of the French Renaissance art, is one. The subject, shown seated in her bath, traditionally was believed to be the famous beauty, Diane de Poitiers (1499-1566), a favourite of Henry II and virtual ruler of France. However, this identification is now rejected, and the dating, placed either in the 1550s or around 1571 is debated. Diane do Poitiers. Other candidates for the identity of the sitter are Mary Stuart (Mary, Queen of Scots) and Marie Touchet, mistress to Charles IX.

This is the classic portrayal of a Royal mistress in her official role, cool, beautiful, aloof, bejewelled even in her bath, accompanied by the strappings of her state: fine rooms, a noble child in the arms of its leering, accomplice-nurse, the sly Love-child stealing the fruits, the flower of passion in her hand.

Regarding the several influences, Titian's influence has been cited. The motif of the servant in the background performing a domestic chore is seen as deriving from the Venus of Urbino. The painting also shows affinities to the highly polished surfaces and icy eroticism of Bronzino. The pose of the woman in the bathtub was derived from a composition by Leonardo, known as the Monna Vanna (now lost)