Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Baby, You’ve Got Some Sprezzatura – Renaissance Portraits

Mona Lisa Showing Sprezzatura Maddalena Doni Showing Sprezzatura
The term “sprezzatura” was coined by Castiglione Baldassare in his famous work The Book of the Courtier in 1528. The book is structured around four evenings in the court of Urbino. Each evening a different character talks on a different aspect of being a courtier. Sprezzatura is mentioned in the third evening (on the behavior of courtier women) as a quality that a good courtier should have. Sprezzatura roughly translates to: “a certain nonchalance which conceals all artistry and makes whatever one says or does seem uncontrived and effortless.” [ref]

The Renaissance portraits of the late 1400s and early 1500s by Leonardo and Raphael, for example, show sprezzatura-in-spades. Take for example, the two portraits above; Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa 1502-1519 and Raphael’s Portrait of Maddelena Doni 1506. Note how the sitter really doesn’t look at you, but past you and looks almost bored. That’s sprezzatura. The Mona Lisa and Maddalena Doni have it. Do you? By the way, the strange body shapes for women - no shoulders, long necks, and barrel-shaped bodies - were a Renaissance ideal for female beauty. Portraits started off being side profiles, then front-on, and finally to a slight turn to give portraits more dimension and movement. Shown below are examples of each type.

Piero della Francesca’s Battista Sforza and husband Piero della Francesca’s Federico da Montefeltro 1472. In the earlier, side profile portrait style it's hard to tell if sprezzatura is there.
Battista Piero Federico da Montefeltro

Ghirlandio’s Portrait of Giovanna Tornabouni 1488 and Raphael’s Portrait of Elisabetta Gonzaga 1504 (daughter-in-law of Federico da Montefeltro and a character in The Book of the Courtier).
Giovanna Tornabuoni Elisabetta Gonzaga, Bored or Sprezzatura?

Leonardo da Vinci’s Ginevra de’ Benci 1475 and Raphael’s Portrait of Angelo Doni 1506 (Maddalena's - shown above - husband; at least he looks at you).
Ginevra de Benic Shows Sprezzatura Angolo Doni Shows a Little Sprezzatura

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