UNKNOWN MASTER, Hungarian
(active 1640s)

Middle Class Woman of Lőcse

1641
Oil on canvas, 94,5 x 78,5 cm
Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, Budapest

We know mainly from literature that in Hungary in the mid-seventeenth century family portraits we no longer confined to aristocratic homes but were also to be seen in the houses of the bourgeoisie. Of that period, however, little has survived and these remain include few portraits of the middle classes. Most of then are half-length portraits with neutral backgrounds, whereas in portraits of the aristocracy dignity and rank were indicated by the richness of the clothing and the elegant setting. In the picture illustrated here the artist has captured the individuality of the sitter, her rather hard features, the details and texture of her clothing - all testifying to the fact that aristocratic and bourgeois portraits were occasionally of equal quality. Indeed this portrait is the work of a talented painter who must surely have been a member of the painters' guild in Lőcse.

The painting also provides interesting information for students of the history of Hungarian national costume, for it shows a combination of European court fashion and the typically Hungarian style only the beginning to develop. The lace-hemmed rich colarette known as "the fraise", which came to Hungary from the Spanish court, was adopted both by the aristocracy and the middle classes. It is matched in an interesting way by a pearl-embroidered reticulated bonnet closed in front like a "párta" (a headdress worn by Hungarian girls), a bodice richly embroidered with gold thread an fastened with hooks, and a pleated green silk apron trimmed with gold lace. These profusely decorated pieces worn by Hungarian women provided the unique local character which foreign travellers visiting Hungary had so often admired. The subject of this portrait is seen holding a shawl embroidered with Turkish motifs, while round her waist is a superb enamel-painted, gilded belt.




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