Artibus et Historiae no. 30 (XV)

1994, ISSN 0391-9064

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ELISE GOODMAN-SOELLNER - Woman's Supremacy Over Nature: Van Dyck's Portrait of Elena Grimaldi

This article demonstrates that Anthony van Dyck was indeed sensitive to expressive content in his Genoese portraits by explicating the overlooked multi-layered meanings and contextual framework of his celebrated Portrait of Elena Grimaldi, Marchesa Cattaneo (1623, National Gallery of Art). Van Dyck's mission here was to pay a supreme compliment to a noblewoman; thus his likeness can best be understood in the context of contemporaneous Petrarchan panegyrics, feminist treatises, and country-house poems that - glorify grand ladies. Like the authors of these works, the painter wields conventional rhetorical devices and hyperbolic vocabulary to heighten his image of womanhood. In this regard, the -Marchesa's Moorish servant, like his counterparts in period literature and in Titian's Laura Dianti, Van Dyck's own Henrietta of Lorraine, Mignard's Duchess of Portsmouth, and Bonnarfs Dame, enhances the lady's status and serves as a black foil to her patrician whiteness.

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