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Portrait of a Lady
Pulzone, Scipione
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Pulzone, Scipione

Gaeta (Italy), 1544 - Rome, 1598

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Portrait of a Lady

Ca. 1585. Oil on canvas. Not on display

The overall composition conforms to the type of portrait prevailing in Europe in the second half of the 16th century. The arrangement of the figure, slightly turned to the left in order to avoid a rigid frontality; the strong lighting that models the face and hands; the way in which the hands are arranged; and the inclusion of a curtain as a decorative element were all formulas created in the mid-16th century and assimilated throughout Europe from the 1560s. The sitter’s clothing and in particular the delicate lace collar, which is high enough to cover almost all of her ear, date this image to around 1585. Nonetheless, the most notable feature of this portrait is the background, which contains a curious pictorial device in the form of part of a fictive canvas almost at the edge of the real one, in which the nails that attach the canvas to the stretcher are partially visible.Tied back at the left edge of this element is a red silk curtain. The result is to give the viewer the sense of looking at an unusual type of trompel’oeil. We are thus not seeing the portrait of a notable female sitter but rather the representation of her portrait, which has been revealed to us by chance when the curtain that covers it is drawn back. Not many compositions of this type have survived and it is difficult to know the reasons for their execution, in addition to which we have no information regarding the sitter’s identity. Serrera drew attention to this example in the Prado and pointed to parallels with various portraits by Scipione Pulzone, in particular Christina of Lorraine in the Galleria degli Uffizi (Florence). He related this type of work to various portraits that were habitually covered by curtains and only uncovered for certain ceremonial events when the sitter was not physically present. Bearing this in mind, Kusche dated the image to around 1578 and identified the sitter as María de Guimarâes, Duchess of Parma, who died in 1577. This choice of a painting of the ‘portrait of a portrait’ type for the deceased sitter would thus be a ‘funerary monument’ for the Duchess.This is an interesting idea but apart from a general physical resemblance, the identification of the sitter is not convincing. For the present author, the portrait features an element that makes this sitter distinctive, as among her jewels there is one that particularly stands out: the enormous ruby hanging from her neck. It is an irregular, pear-shaped stone accompanied by small emeralds that form a stalk with three leaves and is a most unusual item of Renaissance jewellery. It probably represents a vegetable, possibly a small pepper.The latter came from South America and were extremely exotic in Europe at this date, where they were used as ornamental plants in numerous gardens. The painting has been attributed to Juan Pantoja de la Cruz while more recently Kusche has suggested Rolán de Mois. It should, however, be directly related to the work of Pulzone, an artist whose output comes close to that of Antonis Mor both with regard to his compositions and his pictorial treatment, which is highly detailed and realistic. These shared features confirm the closeness of the present work to other portraits by Pulzone, particularly those painted for the Medici Court in Florence. Many of these works use the same visual effect, although emphasised by a larger expanse of the curtain, which the present work must originally have shared, given that it is was cut down on all sides.The figure may originally have been depicted three-quarter length, as in most of Pulzone’s portraits.The existence of a wider replica with slight variations in a private US collection helps to support this hypothesis. (Ruiz Gómez, L. en: El retrato del Renacimiento, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2008, p. 494).

Technical data

Inventory number
Pulzone, Scipione
Portrait of a Lady
Ca. 1585
Height: 113 cm; Width: 85 cm
Royal Collection (Quinta del duque del Arco, El Pardo-Madrid, pieza octava de salón, 1794, nº 206)

Bibliography +

Sentenach y Cabañas, Narciso, La pintura en Madrid: desde sus orígenes hasta el siglo XIX, Administración del "Boletín de la Sociedad Español, Madrid, 1907, pp. 30.

Roblot-Delondre, Louise, Portraits D'Infantes. XVI Siecle. Etude Iconographique, G.Van Oest & Cie, Paris ; Bruselas, 1913, pp. lám. 50.

Kusche, Maria, Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, Castalia, Madrid, 1964, pp. 195.

Breuer, Stephanie, Werke Sánchez Coello, Uni Druck, Munich, 1984, pp. lám. 133.

Noticias. Levantamiento definitivo de depósitos, Boletín del Museo del Prado, X, 28, 1989, pp. 124.

Alonso Sánchez Coello y el retrato en la corte de Felipe II, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1990, pp. 44 y 98.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado. Inventario general de pinturas (I) La Colección Real, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1990, pp. nº153.

Arbeteta Mira, Letizia, La Joyería española de Felipe II a Alfonso XIII, Nerea, Ministerio de Cultura, Madrid, 1998.

Kusche, Maria, Retratos y retratadores: Alonso Sanchez Coello y sus competidores, Fundación de Apoyo a la Historia del Arte Hispánico, Madrid, 2003, pp. 121-122.

El retrato del Renacimiento, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2008, pp. 316.

Vannugli, Antonio, Scipione Pulzone ritratista. En:, Scipione Pulzone. Da Gaeta a Roma alle Corti europee, Palombi & Partner, Roma, 2013, pp. 25-63 [47-48 fg.14].

Other inventories +

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Quinta duque del Arco, 1794. Núm. 206.
Pieza octaba de Salon [...] {4908} 206 / Otro [quadro] de vara de alto y vara escasa de ancho: retrato de una Señora con una mano sobre una Silla: copia Veneciana: en ... 240

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 153.

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 153.
Pantoja de la Cruz (Juan) / 153. Retrato que se cree ser de una infanta de Portugal de la época de Felipe 2º. Sobretodo negro de mangas perdidas salpicadas a trechos de lazos blancos con pequeñas coronas y punzones de perlas. Mangas interiores ajustadas de tejido de oro y plata sobre raso blanco: alta balona de encaje, cinturón de pedrería ajustado al talle, formando punta, collar de lo mismo ajustado, y otro largo de perlas que tiene asido al pulgar de la mano derecha, y el brazo izquierdo tendido sobre el respaldo de un sillón. a la izquierda cortinaje carmesí. Figura de medio cuerpo...

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 923.
923.-Retrato de la infanta emperatrid doña María, hermana de Felipe II y mujer del emperador Maximiliano II. Alto 1,13. Ancho 0,85.-Lienzo. Representa escasamente 24 años de edad: su semblante es noble y agraciado, blanca su tez y negro su cabello y sus hermosos ojos. Está retratada en pié, escorzando el lado izquierdo, junto a un sillon de nogal, en cuyo respaldo descansa la mano de aquel lado, y con la derecha al pecho, sujetando con el pulgar el collar de perlas de doble sarta que realza su lujoso atavío. Su vistoso y rico traje es una saya entera de terciopelo negro, ajustada y de...

Inscriptions +

[ilegible en la imagen]
Inscribed in golden colour. Stretcher, central crossbeam

On metallic tablet. Stretcher, upper bar

M.N.PRADO / 01029
On metallic tablet. Stretcher, right side bar

No 1029
Scrap of paper. Stretcher, central crossbeam

No 1029
Scrap of paper. Stretcher, lower bar

Inscribed in yellow. Front, lower left corner

Inscribed in yellow. Front, lower left corner

Exhibitions +

El retrato del Renacimiento. The Renaissance Portrait
03.06.2008 - 07.09.2008

La joyería española en los museos estatales. De felipe II a Alfonso XIII
15.04.1998 - 15.07.1998

Displayed objects +


Update date: 04-11-2021 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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