The painting comes from the collection of Pietro Baldassarre Ferrero (1787-1851), who published an accurate description of it in the “Messaggiere Torinese” in 1845, recalling with how much reluctance the artist who had painted it “for his own study” parted with it. The erudite collector from Turin, who also owned Hayez’s Angel of the Annunciation, purchased in Milan in 1833 together with Palagi’s Madonna of the Annunciation (with which it became part of the GAM collections), should have known or perceived how much sentimental value was attached to the image of that young brunette woman in a state of undress, depicted in a confidential and spontaneous pose.
The woman portrayed was Carolina Zucchi, Hayez’s model and student, with whom he also became sentimentally involved, forming an intense intimate relationship in around 1822. This is reflected in a series of drawings with a highly erotic flavour and in the extraordinary portrait from the GAM collection, in which Carolina is depicted in a nightdress, against the pillows of a bed, a detail that gave rise to the title “The Patient” by which the painting is also known.
In 1825 and 1826, Hayez painted other portraits of the young Milanese woman, in much more conventional settings, and he also portrayed her in a drawing, as well as lending her features to many of the central figures in his historical paintings, which, however, never match the naturalness of the portrait of Carolina Zucchi in bed.
Distinguished also by the quality of its execution, which touches on virtuosity in the rendering of the various shades of white, the painting should be considered one of the best examples of Hayez’s portraits, due to its expressive clarity and modern style.