Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Who is the Old Duchesse?

People have often wondered who is portrayed in Leonardo's sketch, The Old Duchesse  (shown below). Some art historians believe the woman might have suffered from Paget's disease. Others believe that the drawing is meant to satirize a woman beyond the prime of her youth. Another theory is that she is a real person - a portrait of the Duchess Margarete of Tyrol-Görz, who was known as Maultasch, ("bag mouth"), which means "whore" or "ugly woman". (because of her marital scandals).

The Beauty in Ugly
Leonardo's drawing has been a big inspiration for me to paint the ugly as beautiful. Although this woman is certainly not The Pretty One there is still something undeniably beautiful about her. I love the way she is all gussied up with her breasts corseted and her hair in the horned hairstyle that had become so popular at the time. This woman may look ugly to us but she certainly doesn't feel ugly. It's a subject that I am exploring in my next book. More on that later...
Quentin Matsys painted The Grotesque Woman based on Leonardo's sketch.

And that served as a basis for John Tenniel's depiction of the Duchesse in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

I found this great post on the origins of some of the other characters in Alice in Wonderland from Jennifer over at Rambling, Rants and Other Random Nonsence

Sources and Further Reading:
Eco, Umberto On ugliness. New York, NY : Rizzoli, 2007

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