Sadie Stein considers the mysterious subject of Parmigianino's painting Schiava Turca (c. 1531–34), on view at The Frick Collection, New York through July 20, 2014.
Stein writes: "The painting, a 1530s Mannerist masterpiece by Parmigianino, is considered an icon of the artist’s hometown, but no one is sure of the sitter’s identity. Was it a noblewoman? A courtesan? Or just an ideal of feminine beauty?... [Curator Aimee] Ng makes a strong case for the literary overtones of the portrait—as she points out, the artist moved in these circles, and well-educated female intellectuals were by no means unusual in the milieu... In sum, whoever they portray, the portraits in the show manage to capture not just a subject, but a moment—and an artist at the height of his powers; not long after, Parmigianino would descend into madness, become obsessed with alchemy, and die in penury at thirty-seven."
Exhibition curator Aimee Ng's talk A Portrait's Mysteries: Parmigianino's Schiava Turca is online here.