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.


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Artist
Paolo Veronese, Italian (Venetian), 1528–1588
Title
Portrait of a Lady as Saint Agnes
Date
1580s
Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
Canvas: 34 × 29 1/2 in. (86.4 × 74.9 cm) Frame: 46 × 41 1/4 in. (116.8 × 104.8 cm)
Credit Line

Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston

Current Location
The Audrey Jones Beck Building
216 BLAFFER GALLERIES
Accession Number
BF.1982.14
Classification
Painting
Provenance

Von Dirksen, Berlin, before 1932; [Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd., London, 1932]; Dr. R.V.B. Emmons Collection, Hamble, Hampshire; [Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd., London]; purchased by Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, 1982.