Through the famous Renaissance portraits of women, it is possible to understand how modern fashion began. It was during this period, in fact, that for the first time in art history, women became the object of a somewhat obsessive attention to the details of beauty. Artists began focusing intently on women’s faces, hair and clothes, and thus female portraiture took on another expressive element, beyond representing personality and social status.
Simonetta Cattaneo, the muse and inspiration for Botticelli’s paintings, can be considered the first “supermodel” in history. 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 chivalrous tournament known as La Giostra, which was won that year by Giuliano de’ Medici, brother of Lorenzo the Magnificent. Giuliano 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 Magnificat” at the Uffizi.
Another model was Lucrezia Panciatichi. In Bronzino’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 of precious stones. One of her two necklaces bears the inscription amour dure sans fin, an allusion to the love of God, whilst her right hand holds a prayer book; and the sleeves of the dress are big and detachable, as it was common in that period.