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Arts of Europe

The MFAH collections of art created on the European continent encompass artistic styles across the time line of history, from the ancient world to the Middle Ages, and the Early Modern era to the 21st century.

Italian, 1528 - 1588
Portrait of a Lady as Saint Agnes
Oil on canvas

34 x 29 ½ inches

Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston
Arts of Europe

The gold brocade wrapped around this young woman, the lamb on her lap, and the open prayer book indicate that she is portrayed as Saint Agnes, a virgin martyr. During the Renaissance, women who were soon to be married often associated themselves with this saint because Agnes chose to die rather than marry a man she did not love.

Paolo Caliari became known as Veronese because he was born in Verona, but he spent most of his career in Venice, which had a strong tradition of male portraiture. Although Venetian women were legendary for their beauty, portraits of them were relatively rare during the Renaissance. Only 11 out of approximately 400 existing portraits by Veronese depict females. At the time, the possession and public display of luxury items—indicators of power and identity—were regulated by rules called sumptuary laws. But there was no penalty for being depicted in opulent attire, and portraiture was a way to establish status. Veronese excelled at rendering these external symbols, and Portrait of a Woman as Saint Agnes reveals his opulent style, as seen in the elaborate brocade, rich coloring, and gold embroidered dress.