Page 8 - Paris Bordon - A Young Woman Holding a Mirror with Her Servant (A Bella)
P. 8


T en years or so ago we produced a catalogue whose subject was two beautiful women by Francesco del
           Cairo and Nicholas Regnier.The captivating text was authored by Beverly Brown and the catalogue
           had the racy subtitle Classical Heroines,Romantic Passion and the Art of Suicide!1When the whim belayed
           me into a last minute decision to produce yet another publication, this time on the beautiful woman
who figures in Paris Bordone’s Vanitas or Bella, I naturally turned to Beverly for advice. She told me that at that
very moment, quite fortuitously, Peter Humfrey was reviewing Andrea Donati’s new catalogue raisonné which
had appeared a couple of months earlier.When Peter consented to write an essay in record time I was delighted
and so here we are with our third catalogue for Spring 2015.

One wonders about the identity of the pretty damsel who figures in our painting. She is unusually young,
slender and comely for a maiden portrayed by this artist and this elegance and beauty has led to the proposal
for an early dating in the artist’s output c. 1535 (Mauro Lucco) and c. 1537/40 as here proposed by Peter
Humfrey. Just as the Dosso Dossi Semele, which Beverly Brown published in our 2014 catalogue 2, was probably
intended as a courtly ‘tease’ or conundrum for the onlooker to unravel, so the subject of Bordone’s Bella can
be interpreted in a variety of ways as the text which follows elaborates. Is she intended as a representation of
wifely chastity, of virtue, vice or as an image of Vanitas? The comb and the mirror have also been considered
emblems of Pride (Superbia).They figure in northern art, for instance in Hieronomyus Bosch’s painting Superbia,
and a well-circulated print of a comb by Roemer Visscher (1547-1620) is entitled Purgo et Ornat (it cleans and
it beautifies). Our Bella gazes sideways into the mirror while her maidservant looks obliquely at her as if to
accentuate her action. Neither figure looks directly out of the picture plane at the viewer.This exercise, by a
beautiful woman, is often considered a narcissistic aspect of youth and the comb accentuates the very activity
of looking into the mirror: Vanitas. Equally the Bella’s hair is shown to be partially unbound and loosened hair
has been considered a symbol of easy virtue, as in representations of the Mary Magdalen.The concept of the
enigmatic woman, or Bella, remained popular throughout the Cinquecento and was to flourish on until the
Baroque as evidenced by the Del Cairo painted c. 1630. Here again, with both breasts suggestively exposed

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