Mirrors on the whimsical stands

This posting will unlikely add anything to my “General Theory of the Future Mirrors” (as, evidently, neither all others). I feel more comfortable when I merely add yet another random vignette to this arbitrary  flow, than when I am trying to construct the Grand Story.

As almost all other stories here, it is a result of an accidental tangent, along the deliquescent line: I wrote a small account on the chests in the previous posing, and then I discovered more of those chests, in a very different place (see it on the background).

If I wouldn’t be so lazy and inconstant, this story would be written much earlier: once I wrote an epic introduction to the first wave of the School of Fontainebleau (and its one mirror), and had the plans to do the same with the second one (where there are few more mirrors, including the one of the Belle Gabrielle.)  But to the point.

To start with, below is the painting full-size:

A more attentive reader can spot that it’s not exactly the painting with which I started the posting, and she would be right;  I will show the ‘right’ one too, but let me start from this work first, even if only because it was made earlier can could be considered ‘primary’ to this series.

As often happens with the paintings of the School of Fontainebleau, especially its later wing, we don’t know its author. The dating of the work is also very approximate, and already for centuries people keep guessing who is painted here, what they are doing, and why.

Some researchers attribute this painting to François Clouet, a French court painter with quite a unique biography: he managed to work for four French kings in a row. He started to work at the already during

в каком-то смысле уникальному живописцу, который умудрился “работать” придворным художником про четырёх королях Франции подряд.  Он писать ещё при Франциске I, whom he in some way ‘inherited’ from his father, Jean Clouet, also a court painter.  It was his father who made the most famous portrait of the first monarch of the House of Valois:

The son took the father’s brush and during his life (1510-1572) made large amount of portrait of kings, queens, princes and princesses, and the noblemen and noble-women of all sort:

It is because of his prolificacy we now had more or less accurate representations of all these historical figures. The style of Clouet Junior was somewhat more animated than of his father, but for me his works are still too stiff and starchy. Understandably, these portraits nobility couldn’t be as alive as the allegorical scenes of the Fontainebleau School, but still, the Italians painted even their popes in a more unshod manner.

Another pity is that non of these portraits has any mirrors; which is a bit strange, since the mirrors were both rare and expensive object at that time, and could have add some interesting value to the image (I am now gathering the materials about the mirrors and the depictions of the royalty, and I have to admit that the work moves very slowly.)

This lack of mirrors does not mean, of course, that Clouet was not capable depicting reflective surfaces and the play of light in them. Some of the works that explore this theme are total masterpieces, like this portrait of the Elisabeth of Austria, the wife of Charles IX and the Queen of France from 1570 till 1574. The portrait was made in 1571, soon after her coronation:

This is very beautiful portrait itself, but if you have a chance to look at the intricacy with which the painter depicted the jewellery, you may consider it simply stunning:

I highly to recommed to have a look at the large images (hyperlinked), they are incredible (that having in mind that the whole portrait is not that large, 36 х 26 cm, just a bit large than А4 sheet today.

The stiffness of the noble portrait does mean that Clouet didn’t paint more frivolous scene (including nude models in them); for example, the Bathing of Diana is attributed to him by the majority of researchers today.

This is obviously a mythological scene; nudity is allowed to the goddesses, but not so much to the mere mortals. That’s why the attribution of the next work to Clouet raises some questions:

This particular work raises many more question, starting from its authenticity: it looks too new and to contemporary, and resembles a more modern copy of the following portrait:

My personal opinion shall be ignored, of course, and then the most common opinion is that the portrait is made by Clouet, and therefore the depicted lady Diane de Poitiers, the official mistress of Henry II and during his life de-facto the Queen of France.

However, if it is the case, it is very unlikely that the portrait was created during her life (or rather during the life of the King). Henry died in 1559, because of the injury during the tournament, but Diana lived for seven more years (she lost her power, but not her beauty, as admitted even by her foes.) The painting is dated 1570, it could be either either pre- or post-mortal caricature. It could be commissioned by either Catherine de’ Medici or people from her circles.  Similar to the portrait of Gabrielle d’Estrées, it is full of symbols and hidden messages (please do read the posting about Gabrielle, if you want to know more about them.)

Similar to the Gabrielle’s double portrait, there is also a mirror here, too, it hangs on the wall in the background:

Similar to the Gabrielle’s portrait, I can’t recognize what exactly it reflects. In addition to many other symbols, this work also has a panel with a unicorn, an entirely new motif in the paintings of this sort:

An alternative version suggests that she is not necessarily Diana, and that a) the portrait could have been made later, and not by Clouet (and therefore she could even be the very same Gabrielle), and b) that it could be not a portrait at all, but a generic mythological scene, showing, for example, the goddess Venus or any other symbol of femininity (see these, and few more versions here.)

I am telling all that also because this is fully applicable to the very first painting, with which I started this posting. The website of the museum where it is currently on display (Worchester Art Museum) the painting is described, rather vaguely, as the Woman at Her Toilette (although they do note that she could be Diane de Poitiers, but also Mary Stuart (Mary, Queen of Scots.))  People keep arguing about these attribution for centuries, and I don’t have any intentions to enter these debates.

What I am really interested here is the mirror that stands in front of the lady on a table:

Itself it is a rather small mirror, but it is embedded into a large and richly decorated frame, with pearls and semiprecious stones, and it looks like statuette, resting on the two urine figurines. There are not so many equally beautiful mirrors in the history of art, believe me.

An interesting details, the figurines look in the opposite directions, so you can simultaneously see both the bottom and the belly of these women.  This could be a hint on the possible application of the mirror; similar to the two mirrors depicted by Bellini, this small mirror could be use in couple with another, lager one, to be able to see both front and back sides.

We see only one mirror here, this small one, and in this context we can imagine the larger one standing (of hanging) in front of the woman, where she is looking at with her dispelled gaze.

Among other details we see this proverbial cassone  — most likely, a borrowing from Titian, I am not aware that they uses these chests in France.

During the restoration it was found that there was something on this chain, a cross (? doubtfully) or a pendant, perhaps a medallion, but later this ‘something’ was erased.  However, this ‘thing’ remain intact on the other version of this portrait, the one I started this posting with:

These two paintings are very similar, and it’s not clear which one is the original, and which is a copy. The first one. The one I described first is painted on a wooden panel, and this one on canvas, and it gives a certain advantage to former. It is also said the the work of brush is a bit more nuanced on this ‘first’ version, too.

The painting that I refer as the ‘second’ one is not in the museum Dijon (Musée des beaux-arts de Dijon), and therefore is often referred as the ‘French’ version, as opposed to the British ‘first’ one.

The copy I show above may indeed look pretty rough, but you need to keep in mind that all these pictures are found in the open internet, and often are not of very high quality. This is, for example, another version of the same painting, and it looks completely different:

It would be interesting to play the game ‘Find N differences between the two paintings’; there are plenty tiny differences between these two works, and it would be indeed great to spend three hours with these works (see The Power of Patience):

The not so tiny different between these two works is the presence of the pendant I wrote about. This is also interesting because if my version, about the larger mirror in front of her, is correct, we then have to see her own reflection in this medallion!

But again, the copies that I have at the moment are so poor that I may only keep guessing for a while.

The third portrait of this series is very similar to the first two, but also has significant differences:

As in the case with the other two, we know neither the name of the master who painted it, nor the date (nor the heroine.) This painting is currently in Kunstmuseum Basel, but the work is traditionally referred as the ‘German’ one – there are some marks in German on the mirror’s base, but more importantly, there used to be a sign on the back of the painting describing the woman as Philippine Welser, the (morganatic) wife of Ferdinand II, Archduke of Austria.

There are, of course, alternative interpretations suggesting that the sign is not authentic and that it was added later, and then erased again etc., the usual story with many unclarities and controversies. The museum itself describes it rather evasively as Portrait of a Lady, and the date is described as ‘circa 1570’.  In some versions it is also described as Portrait of Diane de Poitiers (for the record, it is also a panel, not canvas, and rather big one, almost one by one meter in size.

As we see, there is also a pendant on this painting, but I don’t expect to see anything there (if anything, there should be the woman’s fingers reflected there); there is a chest in the room, too, although it is moved to the right side.

The mirror here also differs from the previous two; its frame is also lavishly decorated, even more so, but the two sculptures are far from being subtle, they are very directly depicting the love scene:


Similar to the double portrait of Gabrielle, all these works create a very controversial feeling: they are very beautiful, no doubts, but in a very pervert way. The woman depicted here look very bizarre, and not only by the standards of the age; todays such depictions would also force may eyebrows to raise.  That’s why I also tend to consider them caricatures, parodies on certain events or perhaps other, more decent works (see the story about Gabrielle for more elaborate explanations.)

In fact, if to agree with the assumed dates of creation of these works, they had to precede the above Gabrielle, and the latter was already following the existing pattern (it jus happened that I wrote about Belle Gabrielle earlier, and use it as a reference point.)

As in these case with the Gabrielle double portrait, there are many remakes of these famous portraits (perhaps, not so many, and in the case of the notoriously famous breast nipping couple, but still a few):

The above two examples are the works by Ingrid Dee Magidson who makes many of such remakes and reappropriations. I wouldn’t search for any rational connections between those portraits and these copies, also because the ‘originals’ were themselves the striking examples of simulacra.

As I said, a vignette.


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