An Icon for a New Woman: A Previously Unidentified Portrait of Isabella Andreini by Paolo Veronese


  • Maria Ines Aliverti University of Pisa



My paper concerns a fascinating portrait by Veronese in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, of a woman here identified as the great Italian actress Isabella Andreini. Thisidentification is based not only on a comparison of its physiognomic details with those in the most reliable known portrait of Isabella, that of Raphael Sadeler (1602), but also on important features emerging from the iconographic analysis. These are the book held in the young lady's left hand, her sophisticated and androgynous appearance, the exceptional cut and fashion of her clothes, and the absence of jewels or other marks of social identification. The date here proposed for the portrait, 1583, coincides with major theatrical events in Venice and its territories. Previous art historians have been reluctant to interpret this extraordinary portrait, because of its lack of recognizable and unambiguous marks of reference. It seems certain that the sitter, here identified as the young but already famous actress, inspired the painter to shape a new, expressive and strong icon of femininity, denoted by intellectual and moral independence, and a firm, physically oriented decorum. This enquiry into the portrait is contextualized by addressing basic methodological questions relevant to the identification of portraits of actors and actresses.






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