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Portrait of a Lady
Scheggia (Giovanni di Ser Giovanni), Italian (active Florence), 1406 - 1486
The woman is shown at bust length, in profile against a plain, dark background. She wears a brocade dress. As was the fashion in the mid-fifteenth century, her forehead has been shaved and her hair pulled up and held in place by a string around the top of the head and a white band over the ears. A jewel decorates the band. The hairstyle emphasizes the sitter's long neck on which a jeweled pendant hangs from a double-stranded bead choker.
The letters G, P, and I across the top may be the woman's initials. The P is crossed, indicating that it stands for Pro, Per, or Par. It probably formed part of the same word as the I. Together they could be a Florentine last name, of which the patrician families of Peruzzi1 or Parenti are the most obvious candidates. Scheggia definitely worked for the former, as his only surviving piece of domestic furniture is an intarsia cassone with the Peruzzi arms.2 The G may be the first letter of the sitter's name or, more likely, an abbreviation for the Latin word Gens or Gentium, meaning "family" or "of the family." In this case the family name would be in the Latin plural (for instance, Peruzziorum). The need to identify the sitter may suggest that the portrait is posthumous.
The letters are interspersed with symbols resembling fifteenth-century notarial marks, although their specific meaning is unclear. Scheggia, who was the son of a notary, employed the same sort of marks in the inscriptions identifying the saints in the altarpiece in the Museo Diocesano d'Arte Sacra of San Miniato al Tedesco.3
The attribution of the picture to the Master of the Fucecchio Altarpiece, now identified as Scheggia, was first proposed by Federico Zeri in a letter to Barbara Sweeny dated Rome, December 20, 1958. He dated the picture toward 1440-50. Other scholars often discussed the painting in terms of the work of Piero della Francesca, Paolo Uccello, and Domenico Veneziano, based on the fact that most surviving profile portraits have been associated with these masters. By contrast, Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy (1938) and John Pope-Hennessy (in Pope-Hennessy and Christiansen 1980) proposed an attribution to Neri di Bicci (q.v.).
Only a few independent Florentine profile portraits from this period survive, and most of them are of men. The rarer female portraits all date after 1440, with the earliest extant examples being the work of Filippo Lippi,4 who established the formula of a strict profile that takes advantage of the high forehead and long neck then in fashion, and that emphasizes the depiction of rich ornament and costume. Lippi's ideas in turn may have derived from Pisanello, whose Ginevra d'Este of about 1433 in the Louvre is the earliest known independent Italian female portrait.5
Domenico Veneziano has been credited as the other major influence in the depiction of women in Florence. Although no female portrait by him survives, one is recorded in the inventory drawn up after Lorenzo de' Medici's death in 1492.6 This or another painting by the artist may have been the model for a series of portraits on which the Johnson picture by Scheggia also depends, the principal examples being those attributed to the Master of the Castello Nativity (q.v.) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (see New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Jules Bache Collection, 1949, no. 49.7.6) and in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (see Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, no. P27W58.15). The sitters in both are shown against a plain, dark background that emphasizes the sharply cut strict profile. Although Scheggia shows his subject in a slight three-quarter view, his painting follows this model in such aspects as the long neck broken by a choker, the blond hair curled over the ear, and the brocade of the dress.
Laura Cavazzini (1999) has noted similarities between the hairstyle in the Johnson portrait and those in works of the 1450s and 1460s, such as Desiderio da Settignano's marble female bust in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence.7 Luciano Bellosi (in Bellosi and Haines 1999) has dated the Johnson portrait to the 1460s. Carl Brandon Strehlke, from Italian paintings, 1250-1450, in the John G. Johnson Collection and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004, pp. 379-382.
1. The marks between the P and I are not letters, as Frank Jewett Mather suggested in a letter to Johnson dated Princeton, February 19, 1914. Mather thought that the inscription might read "Peruzzi."
2. Laura Cavazzini, ed. Il fratello di Masaccio: Giovanni di ser Giovanni detto lo Scheggia. Siena, 1999. Exhibition, San Giovanni Valdarno, Casa Masaccio, February 14-May 16, 1999, repros. pp. 48-49 (black-and-white and color).
3. See Gigetta Dalli Regoli, ed. Il "Maestro di San Miniato": lo stato degli studi, i problemi, le risposte della filologia. Introduction by Federico Zeri. Texts by Serenella Castri, Gemma Landolfi, and Paola Richetti. Pisa, 1988, figs. 16-17 (details).
4. They are the portrait of a woman and man at the window in New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1436[?]; no. 89.15.19; Jeffery Ruda. Fra Filippo Lippi: Life and Work with a Complete Catalogue. London, 1993, color plates 45-46) and the Portrait of a Lady in Berlin, Staatliche Museen (c. 1440-50; no. 1700; Jeffery Ruda. Fra Filippo Lippi: Life and Work with a Complete Catalogue. London, 1993, color plate 103). The sitters in the New York portrait are perhaps Lorenzo Scolari and Angiolina di Bernardo Sapiti, who married in 1436. However, the possibility that they are not a married couple is likely, and that it instead shows the homage of a man to his idealized or poetical lover.
5. No. R.F. 766; Lorne Campbell. Renaissance Portraits: European Portrait-Painting in the 14th, 15th, and 16th Centuries. New Haven, 1990, color plate 92.
6. Quoted in Hellmut Wohl. The Paintings of Domenico Veneziano, ca. 1410-1461: A Study in Florentine Art of the Early Renaissance. New York, 1980, p. 350, document 5. It was a colmetto, or small tabernacle, with a head of a lady.
7. Laura Cavazzini, ed. Il fratello di Masaccio: Giovanni di ser Giovanni detto lo Scheggia. Siena, 1999. Exhibition, San Giovanni Valdarno, Casa Masaccio, February 14-May 16, 1999, repro. p. 82.
Francis Mason Perkins. "Pitture italiane nella raccolta Johnson a Filadelfia (S.U.A.)." Rassegna d'arte (Milan), vol. 5, no. 8 (August 1905), p. 115 (Paolo Uccello);
J. Kirby Grant. "Mr. John G. Johnson's Collection of Pictures in Philadelphia." The Connoisseur (London), vol. 21, no. 81 (May 1908), pp. 3-11; vol. 21, no. 83 (July 1908), pp. 143-51; vol. 22, no. 85 (September 1908), pp. 3-9; vol. 22, no. 87 (November 1908), pp. 141-52; 145-47, repro. p. 147 (early Florentine, restored);
William Rankin. "The Collection of Mr. John G. Johnson: The Early Italian Pictures." The International Studio (New York), vol. 37, no. 147 (May 1909, p. lxxx (attributed to Francesco di Giorgio);
Bernhard Berenson. Catalogue of a Collection of Paintings and Some Art Objects. Vol. 1, Italian Paintings. Philadelphia, 1913, pp. 21-22, repro. p. 247 (school of Domenico Veneziano);
Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. vol. 10. The Hague, 1928, p. 240;
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: A List of the Principal Artists and Their Works with an Index of Places. Oxford, 1932, p. 196;
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento: catalogo dei principali artisti e delle loro opere con un indice dei luoghi. Translated from the English by Emilio Cecchi. Collezione "Valori plastici." Milan, 1936, p. 169;
Jean Lipman. "The Florentine Profile Portrait in the Quattrocento." The Art Bulletin (New York), vol. 18, no. 1 (March 1936), pp. 72, 101, fig. 13;
Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy. Alesso Baldovinetti: A Critical and Historical Study. New Haven, 1938, pp. 131, 223 n. 223;
John G. Johnson Collection: Catalogue of Paintings. Foreword by Henri Marceau. Philadelphia, 1941, p. 6 (Florentine, 1420-65);
John Pope-Hennessy. The Complete Work of Paolo Uccello. London, 1950, p. 150;
Abbigliamento e costume nella pittura italiana: rinascimento. Rome, 1962, plate 46;
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: A List of the Principal Artists and Their Works with an Index of Places. Florentine School. 2 vols. London, 1963, p. 219;
[Barbara Sweeny]. John G. Johnson Collection: Catalogue of Italian Paintings. Foreword by Henri Marceau. Philadelphia, 1966, p. 52, repro. p. 125 (Master of Fucecchio);
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, 1972, p. 129 (Master of Fucecchio);
John Pope-Hennessy and Keith Christiansen. "Secular Painting in 15th-Century Tuscany: Birth Trays, Cassone Panels, and Portraits." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 38, no. 1 (Summer 1980), p. 59;
Ellen Callmann. Beyond Nobility: Art for the Private Citizen in the Early Renaissance. Allentown, Pa., 1980. Exhibition, Allentown Art Museum, September 28, 1980-January 4, 1981, p. 16, no. 11;
Philadelphia Museum of Art. Paintings from Europe and the Americas in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: A Concise Catalogue. Philadelphia, 1994, p. 230;
Jennifer E. Craven. "A New Historical View of the Independent Female Portrait in Fifteenth-Century Florentine Painting." Ph.D. diss., University of Pittsburgh, 1997, p. 238, fig. 8, cat. 8;
Luciano Bellosi in Luciano Bellosi and Margaret Haines. Lo Scheggia. Florence, 1999, repro. p. 91;
Laura Cavazzini, ed. Il fratello di Masaccio: Giovanni di ser Giovanni detto lo Scheggia. Siena, 1999. Exhibition, San Giovanni Valdarno, Casa Masaccio, February 14-May 16, 1999, pp. 82-83, no. 22, repro. p. 83 (color).