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Lippi, Portrait of a Man and Woman at a Casement

Painting in central Italy

Video transcript

this is a really strange painting I think with this man sticking his head into this room and this woman taking up the space and it looks very stiff and every time I see it at the math of pause in front of it because it seems so odd it is a very unusual painting to our eyes at the time was painted around 1440 it was actually very innovative for the Italian Renaissance this is exactly the period when portraiture emerged in Italy as its own independent type of painting how come they weren't portraits before that well there were purchased before that but they were usually integrated into larger compositions like a historical or biblical narrative it's around 1440 in Florence and Ferrara and north-central Italy that portraiture it becomes its own type of painting so before that you would the person could appear in a painting as a donor and in a way this painting is typical of early Renaissance portraiture because we see the main subject woman in profile and the profile is the standard format because it was part of the revival of classical antiquity of course many coins and medals had survived from ancient Greece and Rome and they show people in profile and so that's the format painters and sculptors chose in the beginning and there's a kind of formality and seriousness to that pose that I think is important for them right absolutely and since the sitter is represented in profile not looking out at the viewer the artists were really limited in terms of how they could represent two persons facial expressions or character and so the way that was usually done was mostly through symbolism rather than using facial expressions to describe what someone's interior characteristics and personality was like they would use symbols and iconography like for here for instance we see the very pale skin representative of purity the very expensive clothing represented after wealth and generally female beauty was taken as a real sign of interior virtue and so we're supposed to understand she's very virtuous from the way that she looks and it was considered to be very beautiful to have a very high forehead wasn't it they plucked their hairline it's also worth noting in terms of this being a representation of a woman that this is probably one of the very first Italian Renaissance wedding portraits and these kinds of portraits were used in marriages for the purpose of introducing the man to his fiancee they probably never met before but her family or his family commissioned Filippo Lippi to paint this portrait of her to show the husband-to-be what she looked like and so this is an interesting also from the point of view of it being a portrait of a woman she's very much in an enclosed space where the man is outside of that space he's in the outside public realm she is confined to the domestic sphere she's also represented very passive very object like in a way she's just another beautiful object like her fancy brooch or her fancy clothes that he's looking inside adding and literally she was properly absolutely when women married a man in the Renaissance she and all her belongings became the legal property of her husband let's look at another example of a portrait of a woman a famous portrait of a woman from what about 50 or 60 years later and the high Renaissance and Leonardo does something really very different than fasoli believed he did because we really see her face here sure here Leonardo did something rather revolutionary for portraiture of women and he's turned her so that her face is looking out at the viewer this is what we call a three-quarter profile that's not entirely frontal but there is a direct engagement and so rather sitting rather than sitting there passively not returning the viewers glance the Mona Lisa looks as right in the eye and engages with us almost as an equal rather than a passive object because that she looks us right in the face Leonardo takes the opportunity to suggest what she's like suggests her personality through her enigmatic facial expression you'll notice she's not wearing any jewelry her clothing is not that particular she doesn't have a fancy headdress Leonardo is giving up he's not using iconography and symbolism to describe what someone is like but he's actually representing what someone might be like now what we should understand is that this painting was probably painted for her husband and that might explain why she's positioned and looking the way she is if you look at the chair you'll see that she's actually sitting sideways out in a balcony and into her face turns toward us and so maybe the suggestion is that the Mona Lisa was sitting in her chair on the balcony her husband approaches and she turns and looks again and this is the expression on her face of recognition and intimacy this is not a wedding portrait this is for a couple that is already married look at this we should imagine the husband standing in front of it and then it makes a lot more sense you