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The Ideal Woman

Jamilah, TAG Member

Posted: Friday, February 17, 2012

Master of the Castello Nativity (Italian, Florentine, active ca. 1445–75). Portrait of a Woman, probably 1450s. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Jules Bache Collection, 1949 (49.7.6)

«Do you know what the ideal woman looked like during the Renaissance?»

The portrait I selected is titled Portrait of a Woman by the Italian painter known as the "Master of the Castello Nativity." The sitter is most likely a teenage girl from Florence. This portrait, painted with tempera and gold in the 1450s, sparked my interest because of the details that the artist included. The young woman's head is adorned with a cap covered in pearls, and she wears a pearl necklace and a head brooch made of jewels and pearls. Pearls were not only costly but also symbolic of purity during the Renaissance. Her elaborate jewelry, hairstyle, and clothing suggest that this portrait was probably a bridal portrait.

The woman is painted in profile and her facial expression seems to be quite serious. Her expression makes me wonder what she was thinking about or the purpose of the portrait. Was it painted for her new husband so he could show his friends how beautiful and rich his new wife looked?

The profile format was popular for bridal portraits in the fifteenth century. Some say this is because of the influence of the Renaissance interest in antiquity (ancient Roman coins and medals, studied at the time, depicted rulers in profile). The profile is also the best way to view someone's physical features. Poetry written by the fourteenth-century writer Petrarch described the ideal woman and her beauty: the ideal woman had blonde hair (which was often dyed), a high forehead (often created by plucking hairs from the hairline with tweezers), pale skin, and a long neck. People in the Renaissance believed that a woman's physical characteristics were a reflection of her beauty on the inside.

Do we try and fulfill societal ideals, or do we try and break free?

We welcome your responses to this question below.


  • Marisol says:

    The painting painted “Portrait of a Woman with a Man at a casement painted buy Fra Filipo also represents the ideal woman. In fact, the portrait has some characteristics of the ideal woman at the time: the woman is in profile; she is wearing jewelries to show her royalty, her power on the society. The face expression and especially the eyes leads us to think that the woman can either be determined with passionate love for her husband or looking in very serious straight looking. The garden on the background shows that the woman was probably a wealthy woman with a lot of possessions. All of these details can also be added to the ideal woman portrait.

    Posted: March 14, 2012, 10:12 p.m.

  • MMA Teens says:

    Thank you for your comment, Marisol! Who do you think would be considered our society's ideal woman? Thanks again for following our blog!

    Posted: March 15, 2012, 2:02 p.m.

  • Mayssa says:

    I agree with Marisol. " Portrait of Woman with a Man at a Casement" by Fra Filippo Lippi is similar to the painting in this post because it also depicts society's view of the ideal woman during the Renaissance. The woman in this painting, similarly to the artwork presented in this post, has blonde hair, a long neck, a high forehead and pale skin which were the ideal features for a woman at this time period. The woman painted probably had more marriage offers because she was considered beautiful. In my opinion, the majority of people try to fulfill society's ideals because they are influenced by society. Also, I don't think there is one particular woman that would be considered our society's ideal woman for her beauty. I believe today, what is considered beautiful is less specific than in the past and if we were to consider an ideal woman it'd be for her achievements. In that case , I believe the ideal woman would be Angela Merkel who's been listed the most powerful woman by Forbes.

    Posted: March 18, 2012, 6:42 p.m.

  • Chloe says:

    Dear Jamilah,
    I think that today, our society still has an ideal women, however she has slightly changed since the Renaissance. She is often portrayed in magazines and movies and is tall and thin, but unlike during the Renaissance, she does not posses paricular attributes such as as a long neck or pale skin. Women had much more difficult lives at the time of the Renaissance. Their power was very limited and they were expected to marry at a very young age. Consequently, they needed to fulfill societal ideals to have an appropriate bridal portrait (such as Portrait of a Woman, or Portrait of a Woman with a Man at a casement) and find a wealthy husband. Today, conforming to societal ideals isn't as crucial. Several women do choose to do so because of the pressure they feel from the media and the fashion industry, yet several others choose to break free. It has become a choice rather than a necessity.

    Posted: March 19, 2012, 9:20 a.m.

  • MMA Teens says:

    Mayassa and Chloe: Thank you for your thoughtful comments. You both have very interesting points of view. You should also check out Aziza's most recent blog post. She discusses this concept of the ideal woman and makes connections with our lives today. Thanks again for following our blog!

    Posted: March 21, 2012, 9:39 a.m.

  • lauren smith says:

    Where can I find Petrarch's original quote, about ideal beauty in women?

    Posted: May 28, 2015, 6:23 p.m.

  • anon says:

    Well, any study of the perfect woman in the 1400's would have to include La Bella Simonetta. She was thought to be the ideal.

    Posted: October 11, 2015, 6:24 p.m.

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About the Author

Jamilah is a member of the Museum's Teen Advisory Group.

About this Blog

This blog, written by the Metropolitan Museum's Teen Advisory Group (TAG) and occasional guest authors, is a place for teens to talk about art at the Museum and related topics.