Dona Isabel de Requesens – Raphael

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© Musée du Louvre/A. Dequier – M. Bard

What could I tell you about the famous Raphael? Let’s review his biography before talking about this great painting! He was born in 1483 and died in 1520. Raphael’s father, Giovanni Santi, was a poet and the court painter for the Montefeltro, which made Raphael familiar with the arts and court life. He had his apprenticeship in his father’s workshop and then, around 1500, he went to Perugia to finish his apprenticeship in Perugino’s workshop. At 17, he already had the title of magister which allowed him to have his own workshop and students. By 1504, Raphael had aristocratic clients such as Scipione Borghese. The pope Julius II made Raphael come to Rome in 1508 to paint what we now called the “Raphael Rooms”. He was asked by many cardinals for portraits and palace decorations. His strong relationship with the two popes Julius II and Leo X was not an exclusive one. He claimed an intellectual autonomy, and kept working with the Montefeltro among other. Raphael’s production was fed by antique and modern artistic testimonies of the city of Rome.

This painting is the portrait of Dona Isabel de Requesens who was Naples’ vice-queen. Raphael made it with the help of his friend and student Giulio Romano. The portrait was painted on wood and was later transposed on canvas. It was sent to François I, king of France, soon after its completion around 1518. Like the other objects from the royal collection, this painting is in the Louvre. The order might have been given by the cardinal Bibbiéna. He probably chose that woman because François I was known to have a weakness for pretty women, and this woman was known for her beauty. Raphael sent a student to make a quick portrait. The face is said to be painted by Raphael while the rest was by Giulio Romano, who was following Raphael’s composition.

The woman is presented in a three-quarter position with her face slightly turned towards the viewer. The background is made of a drapery and a loggia which opens on a garden. Those elements show the aristocratic status of the lady. Her pose seems to have a natural elegance but everything is studied and highlights the face, and its fair skin. The cleavage and the movement of the arm on the knee invite us to look up towards the arm and the wrist folded towards the shoulder. The dress is very much developed, and the painter plays with the different fabric effects: the heat of the red velvet, the delicacy of the embroidered shirt, the yellow satin of the dress… This taste for the material is similar to Flemish painting. You can feel the silk shiver. Here, there is a distance between the lady and the viewer, which we don’t find in Raphael’s intimate portraits that are painted during a moment of relaxation.

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