Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577 – 1640)

Oil on canvas, 152.5 x 99 cm

National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., USA

The painting was commissioned by the marquis Giacomo Massimiliano Doria It portrays his wife Brigida Spinola Doria. The painting has been trimmed several times on each side losing the representation of the garden in the background and the lower part of the woman.

from the website of the National Gallery of Art (NGA):

Peter Paul Rubens lived and studied in Italy between 1600 and 1609, assimilating its cultural wealth and artistic heritage. During a stay in Genoa in 1606, he painted the portrait of the Marchioness Brigida Spinola Doria. The young wife of 22 years of age came from one of the most important noble families of the Republic. The imposing setting and appearance of the aristocratic marchioness leave no doubt that she was a wealthy and high-ranking person. To enliven her majestic image, Rubens joined the light to the color as well as the position of the marquise to the dynamic diagonals of architecture. Light floods the scene and creates boldly expressive fields on her heavy satin dress, while the red drape adds dramatic emphasis. The direction of the gaze and the perspective of the architecture indicate that the painting was designed to be hung up high – well above the. spectator.

A drawing in the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City reveals that the painting was originally larger. Rubens painted a full-length portrait, with the marchioness standing on a terrace overlooking a distant landscape on the left side of the canvas, but unfortunately, it is not known when in the 19th century the canvas was cut into the present format.

The young face of the Marchioness, animated by her large penetrating brown eyes and by her kind smile, is framed by the enormous and elegant ruff. Her dominant presence is also accentuated by the glow of the satin, the lace of the dress, her jewels and by the elaborate hair ornaments that carefully crown her curls. Behind her, the rich prestige of marble and stone of a palace gives a sense of luxury without limits. The Spinola family, one of the greatest patrons of art in Genoa, derived its wealth from commercial and banking activities. It was customary for families to consolidate their patrimony through marriages between consanguinity, so Brigida Spinola married her cousin Giacomo Massimiliano Doria in 1605. She became widowed in 1613, and later married widowed Giovanni Vincenzo Imperiale, a senator of the Genoese Republic, devoted to poetry and collecting. The personal property of the marchioness may also have been generated by the unusual legal rights – for the time – and by the civic role that the Constitution of Genoa guaranteed to its women. The future Pope Pius II, while still a young secretary at the service of a Cardinal, commented that Genoa was a “paradise for women”.

Rubens visited Genoa, a rich financial and merchant center, at most twice and clearly admired the city and its inhabitants. Their active lifestyle as bankers, merchants, ship owners and military commanders reminded him of Antwerp, an important economic and cultural center in Flanders. After he painted this portrait, Rubens stayed on in Italy for 6 years. Expert in classical ideals and philosophy, he left Antwerp around 1600 to experience the Italian artistic tradition in person, not only from Antiquity to the Renaissance, including works by Michelangelo and Raphael, but also by artists his age such as Caravaggio. The inspiration from this multi-faceted exposure profoundly influenced his painting style and became the foundation of his future work.

After finishing his trip to Italy, Rubens returned to Antwerp in 1609, at the beginning of the 12-year truce, and became the court painter of the Spanish Crown regents in Flanders, Archduke Albert and Archduke Isabella. It was a period of peace and prosperity, and Rubens nternational artistic reputation resulted in numerous commissions for portraits and paintings of historical subjects. He founded a large workshop and developed very close working relationships with other important artists, such as Anton van Dyck, whose portrait of Brigida Spinola’s second husband, Gio Vincenzo Imperiale, is in the collection of the National Gallery of Art (NGA 1942.9.89). Ruben’s masterpiece, Marchioness Brigida Spinola Doria, also inspired the painting by Van Dyck of Elena Grimaldi Cattaneo (NGA 1942.9.92), the imposing portrait of another Genoese noblewoman which represents a jewel of the collection.

freely drawn from

In 1613 the picture was listed as a post mortem asset in the inventory of Giacomo Doria. The property passed onto Giacomo’s brother, Gio Carlo Doria and only after his death in 1625, Brigida Spinola, then Imperial for having married Gio Vincenzo, regained possession of the painting. In 1661 the painting was listed in the inventory of the Imperial collection, owned by Francesco Maria Imperiale (1606-1678), the step daughter of the noblewoman. In 1735 it was still owned by a Francesco Maria Imperiale (1653-1736) and until the end of the 18th century it remained Imperial property, until it entered the Rati Opizzione collection in Turin. From the Rati Opizziìone it was sold to General Sir John Murray (Clermont – Fifeshire), then to Sir Thomas Lawrence in London. Nel 1957 entrò nella collezione di Samuel H.Kress che ne fece dono dono alla National Gallery of Art di Washington ( Piero Boccardo ed Anna Orlando in “L’Età di Rubens” 2004, Skira Editore, scheda n 29 pag 208)

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