“[…] on 1 June 1506, this was made by the hand of the master Giorgio da Castelfranco, the colleague of master Vincenzo Catena, at the instigation of Mr. Giacomo.” This inscription on the back of the painting, translated here from the Italian, gives us one of our few fixed points in the life and work of Giorgione. The half-length portrait depicts a young woman in a fur-trimmed red cloak. Muted colouring and the fine Venetian shading of sfumato, actually adopted from Leonardo, combine with the sensual character of the subject to produce a convincing unity. A white veil is wrapped across the young woman’s coiffured hair and falls in a gentle arc over the soft skin of her upper body. Right behind her, set off against a dark background, rises a vigorous laurel-tree (Italian: lauro). It may be intended as a coded reference to the subject’s name but could also bean attribute of poetry, a symbol of the wish for fidelity in marriage or a reference to Daphne – all of these interpretations are possible. And yet another possibility has also been discussed, one that has to do with the ambiguity in the position of her hand and the character of her clothing. The winter clothing of wealthy Venetian courtesans was usually a beautiful garment lined with fur. Is the young woman closing her cloak or is she about to let it fall? In any case, with this portrait Giorgione created a prototype for later depictions of courtesans and sweethearts in Venetian painting. © Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2010


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