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The ‘Supermodels’ of the Past

Through Renaissance portraits of women it is possible to un- derstand how modern fashion be- gan. It was during this period, in fact, that for the rst time in art history, women became the object of a somewhat obsessive attention to the details of beauty. Artists be- gan focusing intently on women’s faces, hair and clothes, and thus female portraiture took on another expressive element, beyond rep- resenting personality and social status.
Simonetta Cattaneo can be con- sidered the rst “supermodel” in history, as Botticelli used her as a muse and inspiration for his paint- ings. Born in Genoa, she married Mario Vespucci, cousin of Amerigo Vespucci who baptized America. In 1475 she was nominated “Queen of Beauty” at the popular chiv- alrous tournament known as La Giostra, which that year was won by Giuliano de’ Medici, brother of Lorenzo the Magni cent. Giulia- no and Simonetta embarked on a love story which came to a tragic end in 1476. She was only 22 when she died of tuberculosis. Giuliano died a few years later in the Pazzi Conspiracy. Simonetta’s face is believed to appear in The Birth of Venus and the Madonna of the Magni cat at the U zi. Hers and Giuliano’s are believed to be the faces in Botticelli’s Primavera, or
Allegory of Spring.Another model was Lucrezia Panciatichi. In Bronz- ino’s portrait she appears with a “complicated” hairstyle, blue eyes and a melancholic expression; she wears a sumptuous red velvet dress and a corset trimmed with a belt made of precious stones. One of her two necklaces bears the in- scription “Amour dure sans n,” an allusion to the love of God, whilst her right hand holds a prayer book. The sleeves of the dress are big and detachable, as it was common in that period.


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