European Art: 14th-16th Centuries

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Portrait of a Young Noblewoman, 1593

Alonzo Sánchez Coello

Spanish, 1531/2-1588
Oil on canvas
48-3/4 x 39-3/4 in. (123.8 x 101.0 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation, from the Estate of Jennifer Jones Simon
© Norton Simon Art Foundation

On view

Sánchez Coello’s lasting influence on contemporary Spanish artists can be seen in this three-quarter length portrait of a young noblewoman made by his studio a few years after his death. The inscription on the bottom left of the painting indicates that the girl, who has yet to be identified, was fourteen years of age when this portrait was executed. Her extravagant garments, intricate lace ruff and fanciful hairdo with interspersed flowers add to her radiance. Although she clasps her long necklace with the right hand as a sign of material wealth, the other is placed firmly on a bible to underscore her modesty and religious virtue.

Coello and his school recorded the fashion trends in Europe favored by Catholic nobility during the Counter-Reformation, especially in the sober court of Philip II. Social position, elegance, and preciousness of dress were favored over references to the personal, inner life of the sitter. In conservative Spain, even the contours of the body were not to be revealed through the garments.

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