Giorgione's "Laura" 1506; courtsean or marriage portrait?

Essay by tinkabelle18University, Bachelor'sA+, August 2004

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Giorgio da Castelfranco, c.1476-78 - 1510, better known as Giorgione, was a Venetian painter of the Italian High Renaissance. He lived a short life, passing away from the plague during his thirties, leaving behind a small, but beautiful compilation of compositions. One of his most famed works is Portrait of a Woman 1506 (Figure1.) also known as Laura. This painting has mystified art history scholars with its interpretation of the sitter's identity for centuries. Was this a portrait of Venetian courtesan or a marriage portrait of a respectable Venetian woman? Despite the credible evidence which support the interpretation that Laura represents a marriage portrait, this paper will argue that a visual interpretation of Giorgione's painting undeniably presents Laura as an artistic portrayal of a sixteenth century courtesan.

One of the most significant features of Giorgione's Laura which serves as a symbol to the sitter's identity is the presence of the laurel.

The inclusion of laurel functions to support alternate interpretations; more prominently that the painting is a portrait of a courtesan, yet not dismissing it as a marriage portrait of a Venetian woman.

Foremost the name 'Laura' suggested by the laurel branch which frames the sitter's head echoes the use of a pun on the sitter's name. For instance, in both Leonardo da Vinci's Portrait of Ginevra de'Benci c.1480 (Figure 2.) and Antonio Pisanello's Portrait of Ginevra d'Este 1438 (Figure 3.) the identifying feature of the juniper bush behind the woman's head acts as an allusion to her name 'Ginevra' where the Italian word for juniper is genipro. Additionally, 'Laura' was one of the most common names taken by courtesans of the sixteenth century in Venice, thus the laurel could be suggestive of the sitter's trade as a courtesan.

Laurel was also identified as a symbol for literary...