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