STROZZI, Bernardo
(b. 1581, Genova, d. 1644, Venezia)

Old Woman at the Mirror

c. 1615
Oil on canvas, 132 x 108 cm
Pushkin Museum, Moscow

Shortly after completing his apprenticeship, Strozzi entered the capuchin convent of Santa Barbara in Genoa. Although he was to leave the convent later as a lay preacher, his ascetic inner attitude is evident throughout his ceuvre. Here, he portrays an old woman with jaded skin and white hair who is denying herself the dignity of old age. She is having her hair sumptuously styled and ornamented with ribbons and feathers, is wearing a youthful, low-cut dress and admiring herself with pleasure in the mirror.

The theme of this painting has a long tradition: the old woman who has not learned to give her life any other meaning but that of ornament and vanity, and who is unable to see the truth or recognize her true self in the mirror. Strozzi's formulation, however, is both individual and new. It makes the most of the surface values, deliberately contrasting the wrinkled skin of the old woman with the fresh complexion of her servant and juxtaposing the firm and rounded forms of youth with the withered slackness of old age. He reveals in the mirror that the old woman's red cheeks are painted with rouge, and he places a blossoming, scented rose in her wrinkled hand. He also shows us the uncriticizing complacency on her face, leaving it up to the spectator to deduce a sense of embarrassment, emptiness, transparent illusion and moral warning.

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