Left: Lorenzo di Credi (Lorenzo d'Andrea d'Oderigo) (Italian, 1456/59–1536). Portrait of a Young Woman, ca. 1490–1500. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Richard De Wolfe Brixey, 1943 (43.86.5). Right: Helmet Mask, 19th–20th century. Sierra Leone, Moyamba region. Mende or Sherbro peoples. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Robert and Nancy Nooter, 1982 (1982.489)
«I was challenged to find a work of art from another culture and time period that is similar in some way to the Renaissance portrait that I have been researching. For my portrait's match, I decided to pick a helmet mask made by the Mende or Sherbro peoples from Sierra Leone in West Africa.»
In different cultures, the definition of female beauty varies based on people's values and traditions. During the Renaissance, as you read in Jamilah's post, the ideal woman had a fair complexion and blonde hair. She was also intelligent, modest, and chaste. My Renaissance portrait, Portrait of a Young Woman by Lorenzo di Credi, might have been inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's painting of Ginevra de' Benci, a young woman admired for her beauty and virtue. Some art historians believe that this young woman is a widow mourning her husband's death because of her dark, modest clothing. The gold ring she holds between her fingers could be a symbol of her commitment to her deceased husband, or it could be a reference to his profession as a goldsmith. Regardless, she is presented in the best possible way as an ideal young woman.
The helmet mask shows us an idealized female with a stack of necklaces tightly wrapped around her neck. As in the Renaissance portrait, this woman has a high forehead, a full face, and small, closed lips. She is the ideal woman for this community. This mask was thought to have spiritual powers and was possibly worn by older female members of the community to celebrate the end of the young women's initiation period. It could also have been used to cure illness.
In modern-day New York, the ideal woman is defined many different ways because New York is so diverse. I think our society tells us that this woman should have a lean, well-proportioned figure, divinely defined facial features, fine hair, and good teeth. She also needs to be intelligent, talented in the arts or sports, social, and a humanitarian. I think the ideal woman is confident in her beauty and abilities and is fresh in her originality. She has an open mind; she doesn't degrade others and isn't jealous. She'll change the world one day, or at least her community, with all of her inner beauty, intellect, and gifts.
I drew my ideal woman in an abstract setting below. The swan symbolizes her transformation into a beautiful, kind, and thoughtful young woman. She is graceful and elegant like a ballerina. Her expression is deep and thoughtful because she has something to say.
"Lorenzo di Credi: Portrait of a Woman (43.86.5)." November 2008. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.
What do you think about the works of art from these two different cultures?
We welcome your response to this question below.