(b. 1503, Parma, d. 1540, Casal Maggiore)

Portrait of a Young Lady

c. 1535
Oil on canvas, 139 x 88 cm
Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples

Parmigianino painted the portrait of the young lady (so-called Antea) whose identity remains unknown to this day; the name "Antea" is a fiction, but will doubtless stick.

A story dating from 1671, that it represents Parmigianino's lover, lacks any evidential plausibility. Antea, who is mentioned in the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, and also in the writings of Pietro Aretino, was a popular courtesan in Rome. It is easy to imagine that the beauty of the young lady gave rise to the speculation that she was romantically linked with her portraitist Parmigianino, not least on account of the fascination exercised by the portrait. However, the painting is likely to have been executed in Parma in c. 1535, the time at which his Madonna with the Long Neck was also painted. Some people have even claimed to see a striking resemblance between Antea and an angel standing next to this Madonna, which suggests that the young woman could have been a studio model, and not just a sitter for her own portrait.

The type suggests an official commission. The lady is dressed in elegant clothes, with a yellow dress made of atlas silk. The top is patterned with lozenges, while from the hips down she is wearing a narrow white apron. Over her right shoulder, which curiously is far too broad, she is wearing a pine-marten fur stole complete with head. The animal's nose is pierced with a ring on a chain, which she is holding in her gloved right hand, while the other hand is bare, and is grasping a necklet at stomach height. On her little finger, in her ears and in her precisely styled hair, she is wearing further costly jewellery. There is absolutely no doubt that importance was attached to the depiction of the expensive fabric and of the lady's wealth, so that, if we exclude the courtesan thesis, she must be a lady of rank. Her youth suggests that she was still unmarried.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.