Titian. Isabella d’Este in Black. 1534-1536. Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna. ARTstor.

In this image you see Isabella d’Este in Black.  Seated with her body slightly angled toward the viewer’s left, Isabella gazes out of the picture plane without making direct eye contact with the viewer.  While it is accepted that other women did wear the same attire she has, Rona Goffen recognized the woman as Isabella by the pattern of sleeve knots on her gown.  Goffen stated that this pattern was a design solely attributed to her.1  Other identifiers that this is Isabella are the open, but modest V-neckline and ornate headdress.2  Isabella’s attire depicts an effective part of Titian’s artistic skill, as remarked by Rona Goffen, because by only “revealing…hands, face, and throat, Isabella’s costume suggests that she (and Titian) well understood…the woman’s ‘double weapon of exposure and of decoration,’ [which were] all the more powerful because every part of her body is sexualized” making her an ideal beauty.3  

This painting is also a portrait because it was created from her likeness.  This likeness however is not a true representation though because Isabella was in her sixties during the 1530s, not her twenties as she appears.  Nevertheless, her personality is evident in the way Titian displayed her severe, yet sensual demeanor.  Isabella sits so upright and tense that a viewer knows she is an important woman, but at the same time has soft features.  It is these soft features that define her as an ideal beauty.  While her golden red hair is in an up-do, she still possesses qualities described by Cropper such as the small mouth, dark haired arch eyebrows and oval shaped eyes that are lighter in color with hints of green.  In general her skin is pale, but accented with rosy cheeks and her chin includes a small dimple.

Isabella d’Este  Gonzaga (19 May 1474 – 13 February 1539) was a marchesa; this title assumes her role as a wife in order to procreate to help her husband’s family stay in power.  Her demeanor displays her controlled intellect.  The stiff nature implies that she was directed by her husband is all aspects of life, a quality described by Alberti.  Observing these elements of Titian’s style, it is obvious that within this portrait of an identifiable woman, the subject also conforms to an ideal beauty and gender roles.

  1. Rona Goffen, Titian’s Women, (New Haven:  Yale University Press, 1997), 86-87.
  2. Goffen, 86.
  3. Goffen, 86 -87.
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