The work of an art historian or curator can sometimes be like that of a master investigator or CIA agent. For example, a trail of clues led to the probable identification of the woman in this painting by Sofonisba Anguissola. Anguissola is one of the earliest identified female artists, working in Italy in the late 1500s. Rare for the Renaissance, Anguissola was famous in her own time and worked as the court painter for the King of Spain, a job she secured thanks to the portraits of her family that she’d painted as she grew up and honed her skills. The girl in this image is the spitting image of many of Anguissola’s family members, with her round face, large hooded eyes, and long nose. But Anguissola had five sisters and two brothers, so who is this?
My favorite design objects are those that ring familiar, but also offer a story-telling twist, like Marcel Breuer’s aluminum Chaise Longue No. 313–or Reclining Chair–in our Museum’s permanent collection.
This morning, on my way back from the docent room, I stopped at the crossroads of the main drag of the Museum’s offices. About to turn right to my cubicle, I found myself suddenly stopped by this painting, which hangs at the end of the hallway next to our director’s office. I see this painting at least twice a day, but I’d never stopped to really look at it. And so, I decided to investigate.
In the spirit of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s famous quote, I would like to introduce you to one of the most notorious women in the Museum – the Marchesa Luisa Casati. According to her biographers, the Marchesa is the most depicted woman in art history after Madonna, Eve, and Helen of Troy. It doesn’t hurt to mention that she commissioned as many artists as she could for a huge gallery of her own portraits in her lavish, international party center of a house.
From Museum docent Carl Becker: On a recent “Weather and Seasons” tour with fourth graders, we stopped in front of The Two Majesties to discuss the painting and the North African desert location. I asked the children how they would feel in the environment depicted in the painting.