Artibus et Historiae no. 59 (XXX)

2009, ISSN 0391-9064

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ARNOLD VICTOR COONIN - The Most Elusive Woman in Renaissance Art: A Portrait of Marietta Strozzi

Before his death in 1464, the Florentine sculptor Desiderio da Settignano allegedly carved a marble portrait bust of Marietta Strozzi, considered the most beautiful woman in Renaissance Florence. Contemporary sources consistently praise this work as one of the most admired portrait sculptures of the age and its identification has vexed the modern scholar, eager to locate it among the various extant examples of the genre. Not surprisingly, almost every Tuscan portrait bust of a woman datable to the mid-fifteenth century has been attributed to Desiderio at one time or another, usually with the claim of being Marietta's lost image. Predictably, when authentic candidates have been unavailable, fakes have arisen to take their place.
Part one of this paper investigates the sitter of this famous portrait bust, Marietta Strozzi, and freshly examines her extraordinary life and reputation in Florence. Part two begins with a contextual examination of the female portrait bust in the fifteenth century and concludes with an overview of the extant examples once purported to be Desiderio's sculpture of Marietta Strozzi. Former and current attributions of these female portrait busts include ascriptions to prominent sculptors such as Antonio Rossellino, Andrea del Verrocchio, Mino da Fiesole, Matteo Civitali, Pasquino da Montepulciano, Gregorio di Lorenzo and the infamous forger, Giovanni Bastianini. The whole chronicles a long-running quest of scholarship and connoisseurship attempting to rediscover the most elusive woman in Italian Renaissance Art.

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