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Self portrait with madrigal

Author
Marietta Robusti (approx. 1550-1590)
Date
c. 1578
Collection
Technique
oil on canvas
Size
93.5x 91.5 cm
Inventory
Inv. 1890, no. 1898

Marietta’s skills in this specific type of portraiture are recorded by Raffaello Borghini (1584) and Claudio Ridolfi (1648) who stress the close relationship between the activity as a painter and musician of the young artist, daughter of the great Jacopo Robusti, known as Tintoretto. The link between music and painting seems further strengthened by the statement that Marietta painted sketches of the gentlemen and ladies of Venice, entertaining them during their sittings with music and song.

This canvas is generally considered the cornerstone of a critical reconstruction of the figure of  Marietta Robusti and was bought by Cardinal Leopoldo de’ Medici in 1675.

The young woman is shown in three-quarter figure, in a white dress in thick pleated fabric, where the colour and lines merge with those of the music sheet she holds in one hand, while the other brushes against the keys of a harpsichord. The depiction of the music in the foreground is extraordinarily accurate and possibly shows the part sung by the young woman, i.e. page 24, with the notes and text of the Cantus of the madrigal by Philippe Verdelot Madonna per voi ardo in the Primo Libro dei Madrigali, printed in Venice in 1533.  The sidelong glance and slightly turned body seem to indicate that the portrait was painted in front of a mirror and that it is indeed a self-portrait, as generally thought.