This alluring portrait depicts a woman who seems very much the classic Venetian type. There’s a delicacy in the details, from the small flowers that circle the crown of the woman’s head, to the tendrils of hair that frame her face. She touches the shawl at her shoulders, either pulling it higher or about to take it off. Her expression is equally ambiguous. She looks at us with her face half turned, somewhat coy, a little curious—and certainly knowing.
Some qualities of this work hint that it could be a wonderful example of the early sixteenth-century Venetian "Courtesan Portrait." In Renaissance Italy, courtesans were complex women, integral to upper class society. Many were well educated and worldly—sometimes more so than the average upper class woman. Their success was based not only on their physical appeal, but also on their wit and personality. Some had simultaneous careers as performers or artists.
This piece may be the work of Titian, who, early on in his career, was influenced by Giorgione’s poetic approach to painting women. Then again, it’s possible that Giorgione himself painted her. Scholars continue to debate who the true author is.