Lecture: From Carpaccio’s “Sant Ursula” to Titian’s “Lady in White”: The Feminine Mystique in Renaissance Venice

Patricia Fortini Brown, Professor Emerita of Art & Archaeology, Princeton University
Saturday, February 9, 2019

Wives, virgins or courtesans? The feminine mystique of Renaissance Venice sanctioned two desirable roles for honorable women: as a wife and mother managing the family palace or as a virginal bride of Christ confined to a convent. Carpaccio’s Life of Saint Ursula presents an elegant paradigm of duty, forbearance and sacrifice, suitable for both such options. But there was also a third, unsanctioned, role for which Venice was famous: the courtesan. Often talented, well-educated and sumptuously dressed, courtesans might easily be mistaken for patrician wives and daughters, as exemplified by Titian’s mysterious Lady in White. This talk explores how the portrayal of women in art and literature mediated between the ideals of the feminine mystique and the realities of the time.

Presented in conjunction with Titian’s Portrait of a Lady in White, c. 1561, on loan from the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden