Artibus et Historiae no. 80 (XL)

2019, ISSN 0391-9064

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BEVERLY LOUISE BROWN - Sugar and Spice and all Things Nice? Titian’s Portrait of Clarice Strozzi (pp. 177–213)

Titian’s portrait of two-year-old Clarice Strozzi is one of the artist’s best documented works. Not only is it signed and dated 1542, but shortly after it was finished Pietro Aretino penned an open letter in praise of the ‘portrait of the little girl of Ruberto Strozzi’ extoling the picture’s vibrant animation. The effervescent frivolity, however, is not generated by Clarice and her dog but by the two putti depicted on the marble relief decorating the table. Like so many other of Titian’s all’antica sculptural inventions, the two putti help to elucidate the meaning of the picture. Rather than showing a child as a child, Titian’s portrait encapsulates all the female virtues of the perfect wife – beauty, chastity, faithfulness and fecundity. It is a barometer of her potential future, celebrating not who she is but who she will become. Clarice feeds her dog (a well-known symbol of martial fidelity and fecundity) a ring-shaped biscuit or ciambella, which was traditionally given to a mother after the birth of a child. She is dressed as a bride in a flowing white gown with a scent-filled pomander dangling from a belt that falls almost to the ground and precious jewelry, which signals not only her inner virtue but also the Strozzi’s wealth and her potential dowry. Putti were associated with the joy of birth and fecundity and were often found on the reverse of deschi da parto playing rough and tumble games. Small terracotta sculptures of belligerent children also served as talismans for expectant mothers, encouraging them to have healthy sons. Like Eros and Anteros, who according to classical sources were said to have fought valiantly for love, the wrestling putti in Titian’s portrait symbolize the reciprocal love the Clarice will bring to a marriage and indicate the healthy progeny she will produce.

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