Giorgione’s Portrait of a Young Woman (Laura) As Lucretia

Brittany Shedden


When investigating early portraiture in Venice during the sixteenth century, one is hard pressed to concede that women portraiture in the city was nearly non-existent. There is one case though, that began an ambiguous standard for women portraiture for the rest of Venetian Renaissance art and that was Giorgione’s Portrait of a Young Woman known as the Laura. The identity crisis of the Laura by Giorgione has been a long established controversy since its first recording in 1659 in Brussels. Many determine the figure in the painting to be the poet Petrarch’s, lover Laura. Otherwise, scholars distinguish the figure to be a typical Venetian courtesan or an unusual depiction of a Venetian wife. Conversely, I claim to identify Laura not as an individual, but as an allegory of Lucretia; a Roman legendary figure who in order to maintain her chastity, commits suicide after she is raped by the king of Rome’s son, Sextus Tarquinius. Historically, her death liberates Rome from tyranny, establishing a Republic by the people. Furthermore, just as Michelangelo’s David prepares for his upcoming battle with Goliath, gripping his sling with audacious tenacity for the city of Florence –could Giorgione’s Laura, fearless in gaze, be preparing for her sacrifice for liberty in Venice? By eliminating other skeptical claims to the identity of the Portrait of a Young Woman analytically, investigating other Italian Renaissance paintings of this same type of figure, and attributing certain aspects of the painting like her coat, her exposed breast, her appearance, and the laurel leaf behind the subject to the legend of Lucretia, one can come to distinguish her as Venice’s Lucretia; a symbol of liberty for a distinct Italian society during Renaissance times.


Renaissance; Giorgione; Laura as Lucretia

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