Both this panel of Ginevra Bentivoglio and the companion portrait of her husband, Giovanni II Bentivoglio, also in the National Gallery of Art, were created when the family was at the height of its power. Giovanni, a major political figure in northern Italy, ruled the city of Bologna from 1463 until his expulsion for tyranny in 1506. For the most part, Ginevra Bentivoglio is unemotional, and the lifeless gaze, masklike features, and impenetrable stare reveal little of the sitter's personality.
Renaissance profile portraits recalled the images of emperors and deities on the ancient Roman coins and medals that were so highly prized at the time. Moreover, the profile format, which isolates the sitter from the observer, was particularly appropriate to Giovanni's position as a strong-willed lord.
Ercole de' Roberti absorbed Francesco del Cossa's and Cosimo Tura's eccentric style; yet he was also aware of the meticulous realism of contemporary Flemish art, as is indicated by the lustrous pearls and gems so prominently displayed on Ginevra's sleeve. But the single most salient element in Ercole's style is his superior draftsmanship. An energetic yet nervous line describes the flowing contours of Ginevra's head, the swirling concentric rhythms of her hair, and the stiff, parallel folds of her kerchief.