Idealized Portrait of a Lady (Simonetta Vespucci)
Mixed technique on poplar
Inv. No. 936
82 × 54 cm
As in Bartolomeo Veneto’s Idealized Portrait of a Courtesan as Flora, it is clear from the sitter’s fantastic outfit that Botticelli’s larger-than-life-size head-and-shoulders portrait of a young lady of about 1480 is not a portrait in the literal sense but an idealized likeness in the mythological costume of a nymph. This is the reason for the thick, magnificent head of hair, richly decked out with strings of pearls, ribbons, and hairpieces and crowned with a feathered agrafe. The young woman shown in profile has the features of Simonetta Vespucci, who died young and was the lover of Giuliano de’ Medici. Unlike his brother, Lorenzo il Magnifico, Giuliano fell victim to the Pazzi conspiracy in 1482. The pendant of the sitter’s necklace also points to the Medici’s immediate family. It is patterned after a famous ancient intaglio from the Medici collection. Botticelli’s enormous portrait was originally set into the wooden panelling in the stateroom of a Florentine palazzo as part of a larger cycle of paintings, which probably also included a matching portrait of Giuliano de’ Medici.