The enigma of Carpaccio's Venetian ladies

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The fragmentary state of this painting by Carpaccio, and the dispersion of its extant portions in two different museums, have promoted misconceptions. The lower section was frequently read as a family portrait. The painting was closer in its original form and dimensions to Carpaccio's scuola paintings, but letters painted on the reverse and remnants of hinges indicate that it belonged to a different artistic genre. There has been an ongoing debate regarding the social status of the Ladies, identified by one tradition as courtesans and by another as prestigious patrician women, with insufficient evidence to support either argument. A theoretical reconstruction of the original form and context, evidence provided by two Renaissance copies, and an iconographic study, have led to the conclusion that the panel was painted for a piece of domestic furniture, apparently meant for a future bride. Carpaccio incorporated images of moral ambivalence, largely conveyed by animal symbolism, which are related to the themes of love, fertility and procreation. The ploy of ambivalent iconography partially explains the controversial nature of the painting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)150-184
Number of pages35
JournalRenaissance Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2005


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