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A Renaissance Marriage

Audrey, Former TAG Member and High School Intern

Posted: Friday, January 27, 2012

«Did you know that during the Renaissance as soon as a man saw his prospective wife she became almost like his property?»

Fra Filippo Lippi (Italian, ca. 1406–1469). Portrait of a Woman with a Man at a Casement, ca. 1440. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Marquand Collection, Gift of Henry G. Marquand, 1889 (89.15.19)

The painting above, Portrait of a Woman with a Man at a Casement by Fra Filippo Lippi, was completed around 1440 and is one of the earliest known double portraits. Although at first glance the woman looks superior to the man, the opposite is true. In actuality, every single thing you see in this piece belongs to the man. He owns her clothing, her jewelry, the room in which she stands, and most likely, all of the land you can see through the window. He looks through the other window—or casement, a window attached by one or more hinges—with his hands resting on a coat of arms.

The sitters in this piece are thought to be Florentines Lorenzo di Ranieri Scolari and Angiola di Bernardo Sapiti. Although it is possible that this piece was commissioned to celebrate the birth of their child, the woman's rings and jewelry make it seem more likely that they are celebrating their marriage. In fifteenth-century Italy, most brides were married as teenagers and often did not meet their husbands until their wedding day.

Detail of the woman's hands in Portrait of a Woman with a Man at a Casement

I was intrigued by the position of her hands. It almost seems as though she wants to demonstrate her reliance upon herself and that maybe she doesn't need her husband's protection or affection. Even though she does not look the least bit interested in him, she is his possession.

This piece is mysterious because we do not know what the couple is feeling. I wanted to explore this mystery by drawing the young woman as the powerful one in the relationship:

Sources

Bayer, Andrea, ed. Art and Love in Renaissance Italy. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2008. 255–56.

Christiansen, Keith, and Stefan Weppelmann, eds. The Renaissance Portrait: From Donatello to Bellini. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. 96–98.

"Portrait of a Woman with a Man at a Casement." Collections. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 28 Nov. 2011.


What do you think about the relationship between the two people in the double portrait above? What other aspects of the work of art might tell us that the man is powerful? How would you feel if you were not able to choose who you married?

We welcome your responses to these questions below.

Comments

  • Julien says:

    Dear Audrey,

    I liked how in your blog post you didn't only mention the marriage itself but you also talked about how they would live in the futur; you said stuff like how the man in the family would own absolutely everything that had belonged to his wife. When i first saw this portrait I didn't see some elements that you had seen. For example i did not see the coat of arms that the man was leaning on. It was interesting to find out that most Italian women or women in general would not see their husband till the marriage, which could be both good or bad. One thing i would say is that the woman in the portrait looks completely uninterested in the guy. They aren't even facing each other. Thank you for posting this blog post on Renaissance marriage.

    Posted: March 20, 2012, 5:33 p.m.

  • Nicole says:

    I agree with your analysis of the painting. At first glance she seems to be the more powerful spouse simply because she is the prominent figure in the painting. But during this time, the male was always the person is power, and women were, as you stated, just a possession. Furthermore, the man does display a sense of power with the look in his eyes. They are calm, yet piercing, and stare at his wife with the knowledge that she belongs to him.
    If I lived during those times, and I was forced into an arranged marriage, I would begrudgingly accept the marriage proposal because that was the way things were done. However, if today I was approached by a matchmaker or my parents and was told that I had to marry a man I had met only once, I would flat out say no. Today women have rights, and are treated in most parts of the world as equals to men. Additionally, modern day relationships are based on equal respect for one another and most obviously, love! With this in mind, I would not accept the prospect of being some man’s property, especially having met him only once before.

    Posted: April 2, 2012, 2:30 p.m.

  • MMA Teens says:

    Thank you both for your comments. We are glad that the blog posts encouraged you to look even more closely at this painting! This double portrait continues to generate a lot of discussion surrounding the composition of this painting and the relationship between these two sitters. Thanks for contributing to the conversation and telling us what you think!

    Posted: April 6, 2012, 4:21 p.m.

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About the Author

Audrey was formerly a member of the Museum's Teen Advisory Group and an intern with the High School Internship program.

About this Blog

This blog, written by the Metropolitan Museum's Teen Advisory Group (TAG) and occasional guest authors, is a place for teens to talk about art at the Museum and related topics.