Titian. La Bella. 1536 – 1538. Palazzo Pitti, Florence. ARTstor.

With this painting one might automatically think this is a portrait of an identifiable woman, but it has actually been given a generic title.  Here you see La Bella, a depiction of a young woman who stands in three-quarter view toward the viewer’s left while making eye contact with the viewer.  She wears a blue dress with her left arm bent across her stomach and her right hanging at her side.  A headdress adorns her head, and she wears various types of jewelry.

The color of this dress is significant because it is not yellow.  Renaissance sumptuary laws restricted the color yellow to only be worn by prostitutes.  Other colors of dress were deemed appropriate for proper women, but not all prostitutes could be stopped from imitating other women.  The blue color was achieved from grinding lapis lazuli pigments that were quite expensive.  It is within the realm of possibilities that La Bella is a prostitute and Titian was insulting societal law by using such a costly material to paint a corrupt woman.1  Based solely on dress color, one cannot say with certainty that the subject is a prostitute or a proper woman so it is hard to say if she follows gender roles.  However, the placement of her hands over her stomach could symbolize fertility, or a future pregnancy thus having to do with childbirth as Alberti suggested of women.

On another note, the low décolletage of the dress hints at eroticism, but the woman does not act in an inviting manner as in Young Woman with a Fur Coat.  Titian used the same idea of eroticism, but created a new portrait which displayed a different personality; more of a reserved erotic youthful being within an ideal beauty that had the typical facial characteristics in skin color and rosy cheeks.

  1. Rona Goffen, Titian’s Women, (New Haven:  Yale University Press, 1997), 84.
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