About the Artist
The Venetian painter Sebastiano del Piombo (1485 – 1547) probably trained under Giovanni Bellini and Giorgione. In 1511 he left Venice for Rome, where the High Renaissance was flourishing. His work was influenced initially by Raphael, but he later met and began collaborating with Michelangelo. That partnership is currently the subject of an exhibition at the National Gallery in London – Michelangelo and Sebastiano until 25 June.
About the Lady
The painting most probably represents an idealized Venetian woman. It is closely related to another work in the Museo del Arte de Cataluna, Barcelona, which differs in background details and setting. There are also two other versions closer to the Harewood original, representing St Lucy, with the eyes of the sitter reflected in the cup. The Harewood painting may represent St Lucy but there is no evidence of reflected eyes in the cup here.
It has recently been suggested that the sitter is Vittoria Colonna, a renowned writer and member of the wealthy and powerful Colonna family, shown as Artemesia, a goddess associated with death, being in mourning for her young husband Ferrante d’Avalos, Marchese of Pescara. He died from wounds sustained at the Battle of Pavia in 1525. This battle was one of the most important in Italian history, as Charles V and the Spanish forces overwhelmed the French and captured Francis I, whose portrait attributed to Titian, can be seen in the Gallery at Harewood.
About the Collector
Sebastiano’s paintings were popular in Britain from the early 19th century. Portrait of a Lady was acquired by Henry George Charles Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood, an outstanding collector of Venetian Old Master paintings and drawings in the early 20th century. His collection was formed predominantly between the years 1917 to 1927, when he was advised by Tancred Borenius, a Finnish art historian. The Portrait of a Lady, formerly in the collection of the Earl of Elgin of Broomhall in Fife, was an early purchase and was in the possession of Lord Lascelles by 1917, when he had the work conserved. The painting was originally hung at the Lascelles London home, Chesterfield House and, following the sale of that house, was moved to Harewood in the 1930s. By the 1950s, it hung in the Rose Drawing Room
The painting goes on display for the first time in over forty years on 24 March 2017 and has recently been especially conserved.
The National Gallery exhibition opens to the public on 15 March 2017.