Born near Arezzo, Italy, since 1512 active in Venice, died after 1553
Portrait of a an Idealized Woman
White marble relief
Height: 30 cm, width: 23.5 cm, depth: 8.5 cm
With Charles Beddington, London, 2014;
Private collection, England.
This marble relief depicts an elegant woman’s head in strict profile. The classical profile view, a motif from Antiquity, was initially adopted in the Renaissance for coins and medals before appearing in the form of stone reliefs as a conscious citation of Ancient Greece and Rome. The well-proportioned face – the closed lips, straight nose and calm expression – is framed by an unusual, elaborate hairstyle: her carefully plaited tresses, tied into a bow on her forehead, have been draped into a coil on her smoothly combed hair. From the temple, thick strands of hair fall onto the neck; several are turned slightly inwards giving the image a particularly sensuous appeal. The hair is additionally held in place by a narrow ribbon. The artistically arranged coiffeur gives this image of a woman a contemporary appearance. The robe over her shoulders, on the other hand, emulates models from Antiquity.
Stylistically, the unsigned relief is to be assigned to Venetian art of around 1520/30. The profile portrait in relief form was popular in the whole of Italy in the last quarter of the 15th century. In Venice, however, a unique style, influenced by Antiquity, evolved at the beginning of the 16th century, initiated through the work of Pietro and Tullio Lombardo. The classical facial features reminiscent of Antiquity and the precise execution of the hair, in particular, point to the sculptor Simone Bianco.
Simone Bianco came from the province of Arezzo. The exact place and date of birth are unknown. Bianco is first mentioned in documents in 1512 in Venice. As a successor to Tullio und Antonio Lombardo he had a decisive influence on the development of Venetian portrait sculpture in a secular context up until 1530. Unlike Florence, portrait sculpture in Venice in the 15th century was concentrated on public spaces. It was not until the first third of the 16th century that wealthy residents of la Serenissima gradually commissioned sculptors to make copies of ancient works or portraits in the style of works from Antiquity, with an increasingly individual character, for private households.
Simone Bianco, whose œuvre has been the subject of intensive research over the past few years, seemed to have been the driving force behind this development. The famous poet and a contemporary of his, Pietro Aretino, praised Bianco’s works, drawing comparisons with Titian.
Among other statements he also reported that three busts had been sent to the French king and that Bianco was “a decent person, a good sculptor and great friend.” It would appear that this artist and his delicately executed sculptures quite wrongly sank into oblivion. As he seldom signed his works, his sculptures were often not attributed to him. Bianco’s artistic legacy – often mentioned in sources – was consequently little known and his works frequently lay undiscovered as ‘works of Antiquity’ in museum depots.
The Via dei Sette Ponti, the ‘Road of Seven Bridges’, that leads to Arezzo 30km (18mi) away, begins in Loro Ciuffenna. The first bridge that arches the river Ciuffenna in the centre of the little town has existed since the Middle Ages. Records show that a mill was constructed there back in the 11th century. It is certainly possible that Simone di Niccolò Bianco travelled along the ‘Road of Seven Bridges’ to Venice, some 300km (186mi) away – a long distance in those days.
An important Doge
BUT THE POWER OF VENICE ...HAS PASSED ITS PEAK
Simone di Niccolò Bianco, whose exact date of birth is unknown, was first mentioned in a document in 1521 from Venice. At this time Leonardo Loredan was the Doge of Venice. It was under his rule that the War of the League of Cambrai was fought against Venice by an alliance between King Louis XII of France, Pope Julius II, the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, Ferdinand of Aragón and several small Italian states. Although, under Loredan, Venice did not actually lose the war and managed to keep possession of large swathes of its lands, Venice’s omnipotence was broken. By the time the Doge died, Venice’s political heyday had passed.
JEWELS AND LEMONS, HONEST MEN
The imaginative coiffure of the unknown beauty reflects the hairstyle of the Italian Renaissance that, in turn, was influenced by Antiquity. The artistically plaited braids and delicate curls are decorated with gems, ribbons and pearls. Lighter shades were very much en vogue and, if not natural, were created by bleaching in the sun or with lemon juice.
Men’s hairstyles were essentially very simple in comparison to women’s and no differentiation was made with regard to a man’s social standing.