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Signs of identity in Lady with a Fan by Diego Velazquez: costume and likeness reconsidered - Critical Essay
Art Bulletin, The,  March, 2004  by Zahira Veliz
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Continued from page 4.

In Spain, the farthingale and excessive decolletage were proscribed for all but licensed prostitutes in 1639. (67) This seems a probable terminus ante quem for the Wallace Collection painting, as it is unlikely that the principal court painter would fly in the face of the decree, even if Spanish ladies frequently ignored the edicts. The farthingale was criticized by moralists because it permitted the disguise of illicit pregnancies (guardainfante literally means "baby protector"). (68) Low necklines were banished at that time perhaps in response to a temporary and scandalizing fashion fever provoked by the example of the duchess of Chevreuse during her brief stay in the capital. (69) In any event, it was only by the late 1640s--some years later than the Wallace Collection painting--that French style made its mark on both men's and women's fashionable clothing in Spain. The masculine vestido frances made its first visually documented appearance in the Portrait of Philip IV at Fraga, of 1644 (Frick Collection, New York). (70) The influence on feminine fashion was more subtle, showing principally in the disappearance of the standing ruff, a detail of formal dress that was certainly maintained through the 1630s (Fig. 16), and fabrics less heavily embroidered and bejeweled. More open necklines were edged with a large, flat lace collar that became increasingly familiar in portraits of the 1650s of Queen Mariana and the Infanta Maria Teresa. The guardainfante did not disappear. On the contrary, under the influence of Queen Mariana their size, at least in the formal court portraits, increased to amazing proportions. Mme d'Aulnoy reported in her 1679 diary that she was asked to wear the guardainfante for a visit to the Royal Palace. (71)

A Young Lady with a Mantilla at Chatsworth

The comparison of French and Spanish feminine fashion in the 1630s and 1640s is disadvantaged by the inequality of available written and visual sources from the two cultures. Whereas extensive information exists for France, spawned no doubt by a confident, nationalistic fashion-consciousness at the time, evidence is extremely scarce for Spain. One of the reasons may be quite simply the few portraits of ladies painted, reflecting a desire to shield honest women from display. Such a sentiment is attributed to his fellow Spaniards by Carlos Garcia, a Spanish priest, in his book Antipatia entre los franceses y espanoles (1627). He wrote,

   A Frenchman being favored by his lady thinks of nothing else but of
   how to show his friends, and all the world, his success and
   privilege, something that the Spaniard greatly abhors, for when it
   happens that [a Spaniard is so favored], he puts all his care and
   caution in hiding this joy from the world, from his friends, and
   even from himself (if he can). And thus, in this can be seen the
   contrary tendencies between them because the Frenchman strives to
   show off that which is hidden inside: and the Spaniard, on the
   contrary, attempts to hide that which is in view. (72)

Too intimate a portrayal of a virtuous Spanish woman was considered indecorous, and perhaps being portrayed itself was perceived as contributing to vanity. Spanish society was conservative and by the 1630s suffered from a deep crisis of national confidence, and the climate created was no longer favorable to so influential a role for Spanish fashion as had been the case in the latter sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. (73) Styles were slow to change, and the few contemporary images of ladies' costume indicate that appropriate dress for a portrait still covered and obscured the body. Stiff, heavy fabrics and unnatural lines predominated, as can be seen in Hollar's print Mulier nobilis hispanica and in Dona Antonia de Ipenarrieta y Galdos with One of Her Sons by Velazquez (Figs. 16, 17).



In the case of the Lady with a Fan, we have a felicitous opportunity to compare it with the version in Chatsworth, entitled A Young Lady with a Mantilla. (74) The resemblance between the sitter in the Chatsworth picture and the woman portrayed in Lady with a Fan has always been recognized, but the precise relationship of the two portraits has remained elusive. (75) After examining the accumulation of costume details and the body language in the Chatsworth painting, it becomes clear that here the same sitter is represented in elegant Spanish costume. Although the facial features of the woman in the Chatsworth portrait make her appear younger than the sitter of the Lady with a Fan, the obscuring, discolored varnish on the Chatsworth painting renders this effect difficult to judge. The Chatsworth painting's diminished visibility also obscures a number of stylistic questions. For example, does the variation in features result from workshop participation, from idealization of the sitter when the original was no longer at hand, or from the subject's own desire to be portrayed with a younger appearance? One interpretation of the apparent difference in age of the faces in these paintings is that they represent a mother and daughter. (76) The torsos are in the same position but the hands are reversed, as if the same figure and pose were viewed from the opposite side. The square lace collar in the Chatsworth picture was known by the general name valona and appears in paintings from the 1640s such as The Entry of Philip IV into Pamplona (Wellington Museum, Apsley House, London) and others by Juan Martinez del Mazo, Velazquez's son-in-law. The striped trim on the costume in the Chatsworth painting is similar to some of Queen Mariana's dresses painted by Velazquez in the 1650s. The short, black, lace-edged mantilla is somewhat unusual in that seventeenth-century Spanish women were rarely portrayed with a veil, and those few representations that exist usually show a plain material. A fine white batiste panuelo (handkerchief), a fashionable accessory for Spanish women throughout the century, is held in the sitter's hand at the lower left corner.


The lady in the Chatsworth painting keeps the viewer at a distance, her arm crossing the area of view from side to side like a closed gate. Her neckline is high, and the busy decoration of her costume calls attention to itself, acting almost as a visual barricade that isolates the body and the head. This impression may have been exaggerated by an alteration in the format of the painting, which was cut down at the sides. (77) In juxtaposition with the density of costume, the expression of the sitter's features looks unguarded. The body language of the sitter seems to echo the social "enclosure" of women by means of rigidly controlled institutions such as marriage, holy orders, and licensed prostitution in early modern Spain. (78) By contrast, the Wallace Collection portrait offers access for the viewer's eye to travel upward from the gap at the lower left corner, between the hands, over the breast, and to the face: the body is potentially accessible. It is not, however, necessarily available, because the reserved distraction of the sitter's expression, the austerity of the costume's color, and the self-possessed posture preclude any interpretation of compromised virtue. The hands in the Chatsworth painting are passive and demure; the action of touching the veil recedes to the shadowy background; and the figure is static. In the Wallace Collection painting the hands, standing out in their light gloves against the dark fabric, share prominence with the face, their gestures meaningful as they display the attributes of this portrait's iconography. A sense of potential action is conveyed by the delicately poised fingers and the scintillating highlights on the fan. The costume of the Chatsworth painting appears to be slightly later than 1635-40, the date traditionally assigned to the Wallace Collection painting. One possible explanation is that Velazquez painted the Chatsworth painting at a later date from a study of the head, complementing the face with clothing by then contemporary.


French Gesture and Spanish Convention

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