Portrait of a Young Venetian Woman (1505)

Dürer, Albrecht (1471-1528)

Portrait of a Young Venetian Woman
Spruce, 33 × 24.5 × 2.7 cm
Kunsthistorisches MuseumVienna

Inscribed at the top in the middle with the monogram, dat. 1505

We don’t know who the charming young lady is, who appears in front of a black background and looks to the side in a friendly and pensive way. But at least the hairstyle with the long curls falling from the temples and the transparent mesh that contains a hair roll at the back of the head identify the unknown woman as a resident of Venice. Dürer had reached the lagoon city in the autumn or winter of 1505; the portrait, which was completed in that year according to the date, is therefore usually referred to as the first panel painting that he painted during his second stay in Venice. The occasionally expressed assumption that the painting was not completed is contradicted by the presence of the monogram and date with which the artist completed his work. So the left bow of the robe probably did not stop in the underpainting, but was designed differently in terms of colour. It is surprising how quickly Dürer becomes familiar with contemporary Venetian painting, influenced by Giovanni Bellini, which reveals itself above all in a broader painting style, restrained contours and a palette reduced to a few colour values. In addition, in his earlier portraits, Dürer had almost always shown the sitters with arms or hands included. Even in dispensing with these pictorial elements, he corresponds to contemporary Venetian examples, while the overlapping of the shoulders or the arm’s bases through the sides of the picture is rather foreign to them. This solution also does not occur in the case of a lost portrait of a woman that has survived in a watercolour copy, which is attributed to Bellini and is otherwise surprisingly close to Dürer‘s work. The hairstyle and fashion of the sitters reflect regulations issued by the Senate of the Republic as early as 1504, according to which Venetian women were required to wear less elaborate dresses and hairstyles. A second Venetian woman, whom Dürer portrayed the following year (Berlin), follows these conventions, as do the two Maries in Dürer‘s main religious works on his second trip to Venice, the Feast of the Rosary (Prague) and the Madonna with the Siskin (Berlin). The Viennese portrait, which only became known in 1923 and was acquired by the museum that year, is undoubtedly one of Dürer‘s most popular and most published works ever. Guido Messling [26.6.2017] (KHM)