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Scipione PulzonePortrait of Maria de'Medici, later Queen of France
Scipione Pulzone, called Il Gaetano The paintings of Scipione Pulzone are characterized by an elegant, pure classicism expressed through a meticulous and refined technique that makes them at once exquisitely attractive and powerfully effective. From this combination Pulzone became both a leading portrait painter and one of the major exponents of Roman religiosity in the wake of the Council of Trent, a figure who in his short life received commissions from the most important patrons of late sixteenth century Rome?€”Pius V, Pope Gregory XIII, Sixtus V, Ferdinando de' Medici, Alessandro Farnese, and Marcantonio Colonna, among others. The present portrait is well known in the literature, but it is only with its recent cleaning that its signature and date (1594 rather than 1591, as earlier thought), as well as its inventive composition, have become apparent. With the removal of a painted extension at the bottom and overpaint along the left edge, Pulzone?€™s witty conception of a picture within a picture has been restored. The lady portrayed standing beside a chair is herself revealed to be a painted image, the drapery above her and to her left playfully alluding to two conventions of Renaissance portraiture: the backdrop of draped material and the custom of covering paintings with curtains. What may first be taken to be a background element is upon study a drawn curtain, hanging on top and wrapped around the side of the fictive unframed canvas (the tacking edge of which is meticulously depicted), casting a deep shadow on to the surface of the ?€œportrait?€� below. Maria, the daughter of Grand Duke Francesco I de?€™ Medici was born in 1573 and later became Queen of France, marrying Henry IV in 1600; she would have been twenty-one years old at the time of the Pulzone portrait. Supporting the identification are the resemblance of the sitter to later portraits of Maria, such as Pourbus's of 1611; the unusual reddish brown hair color and hair style of the sitter, shared by Maria; and the fact that the portrait of Maria currently in the Serie Aulica did not enter the collection until 1613 and thus replaced an earlier depiction of the Medici princess. A lost portrait by Pulzone of Maria is in fact recorded; it is attested to by inventory mentions of Pulzone portrait drawings of Maria, Ferdinando I, and Christine of Lorraine, all presumably associated with painted portraits for the Serie Aulica. The present portrait is in all likelihood the original portrait of Maria de' Medici painted for the Serie Aulica, but definitive confirmation of its provenance awaits further research in the Medici archives.
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