Renaissance paintings have a unique charm. They require an acute eye for detail, a nose for sensuality, a feel for the passion of the moment and dexterous fingers to convert all of them into a beautiful easel which portrays all of them. And portrays in such way the average Joe looking at the painting is transported to the scene of the painting and enamoured there.
In addition to School of Athens and Soldier and a Laughing Girl, La Schiavona is another painting which does just that.
La Schiavona, also called a Portrait of a Lady or the Dalmation Woman was painted by Tiziano Vecelli or Titan in circa 1510.
Titan was famous for his light and rich colours. He was known as a portrait painter for his attention to portraits and their resemblance to the real life characters. His flowing lines and scenes of relaxations in his paintings make it a joy for the viewer to gaze on. The famous painter Vasari himself said, â€œThere was almost no famous lord, nor prince, nor great woman, who was not painted by Titian.â€
La Schiavona also gives clear evidence of Titian’s concern for the creation of visually convincing volumetric forms. The woman depicted holds a sculpted profile bust of herself in relief. The paint alone on the two-dimensional support – to render the illusion of real volumetric form, a conclusion perhaps derived in part from the modest (and, until now, unnoticed) experiment in The Miracle of the Jealous Husband, which itself turned into a dead end. By juxtaposing pictorially represented three-dimensional effects with actual relief in the fresco, Titian demonstrated, perhaps only to himself, that his painted description of volume could be made indistinguishable from a real one.
In any painting, it is vital that the emotions and atmosphere that the painter wanted to convey across has been done so. In La Schiavona, Titian achieves this by using dark open spaces, which bring the subject into focus. The lack of background and the surrounding environment forces the viewer to concentrate on the subject itself. This being a portrait painting, the eyes naturally reverts towards the most visual part of the human anatomy: the face.
In La Schiavona, Titian places great emphasis on the facial features of the lady, The eyes look straight at the viewer, giving the impression of a bold woman who speaks her mind. The eye bags gives the impression of tiredness and work. Her slightly curved up lips, which are depressed at the ends reinforce this message. This is a woman who is not afraid of the world, not a timid and shy woman but a woman who has the boldness and temerity to look at a stranger straight in the eye while speaking to him.
The facial expression also talks of a woman who is clean and down to earth. This is not a high profile lady brought up in palaces to spend her time talking and dancing. But in fact, a woman who wakes up at dawn every morning and gets her hands dirty working. The band on the head pulls the hair back, leaving the face in full view. The short hair pulled back by the band also gives an impression of a lady who does not have the time to keep adjusting her hair. The black band again, puts the hair and the fair face in the forefront.
All in all, the lady gives the impression of being a rustic village lady who is amused to be wasting time, standing as a subject.
The middle class stature of the lady is further emphasised by her simple accessory. Wearing a simple piece of chain in 16th century Italy was unheard of among affluent women.
Titian also draws attention to the shoulders and neck by using a simple one-string chain which is wound twice around the neck. The hiding of the pendant deliberately takes attention away from the chain and draws it towards the surroundings. The thin muslin careless draped over her right shoulders attracts attention and shows off the fairness and shapeliness of the shoulders.
One of the most difficult parts of any portrait painting is the subjectâ€™s facial features, expressions and his posture. However, one of the most fascinating parts of a portrait painting is the subjectâ€™s attire. For, while the face expresses the subjectâ€™s emotions at that point of time and gives a glimpse into the subjectâ€™s mind, the attire elucidates the subjectâ€™s general character. Is he well attuned to the norms of good grooming? Is it slovenly? Rich? Poor? Had he a good taste? Or does he use off the shelf clothes? All these gives a glimpse of the subjectâ€™s position in society and therefore, not only a more defined big picture but also a better understanding of the subjectâ€™s state of mind as perceived from the facial features.
In La Schiavona, the lady is dressed in rich red, with a muslin piece carelessly draped over her right shoulders. The dress has a wide neck and is held up by a wide black (maroon) belt. The dress is flamboyant, with huge frills at the hands and multiple pleats. The sleeves open up to reveal a white underlining which further attenuates the richness of the red colour.
The dress has a wide neck, something that was not reserved for day-to-day usage in the 16th century. That, along with the velvet material and the muslin gives us the impression that this lady has worn this dress for the special occasion of having her portrait taken.
All in all La Schiavona may not have been one of Titiansâ€™s best portraits; in fact, it comes no where near it, but itâ€™s a portrait which speaks volumes nevertheless.