(The identity of the model, designated in the ancient sources as “vice-queen of Naples” and confused, following an error of Brantome, with Joanna of Aragon, was restored to the benefit of Dona Isabel de Requesens, wife of Don Ramon Folc de Cardona I of Requesens, Viceroy of Naples)
Joanna of Aragon was the daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon, Duke of Montalte, and granddaughter of Ferdinand I, king of Naples. Her beauty was celebrated throughout Italy, her mind was no less so; the poets sang in flaming stanzas. She was commonly called the diva signora, and in fact she was the most perfect type of feminine elegance and grace in the sixteenth century. As a young girl, she married Prince Ascanio Colonna, who was great constable of Naples. This great nobleman was very different from his young wife; as much Joanna of Aragon was fine and cultivated, so much did her husband have rudeness and ignorance. Soldier above all, his external amenities disguised his soul as a condottier; he was carried away, brutal, and, as with all the men of his time, there was something of the bitter warrior in him. The story accuses him of being too harsh for his wife and children, whom he tyrannized and treated in an odious manner. As cunning as he was violent, he spent his life intriguing, conspiring, betraying his masters. He ended by suffering the punishment of his faults and died in 1577, after many years of a very harsh captivity. One of his sons, Marc Antonio, a soldier like his father, covered himself with glory at the battle of Lepanto.
In the portrait we give here, Joanna of Aragon is represented at the happy period of her existence. She is in all the splendor of her royal beauty and triumphant youth. Misfortune has not yet extinguished the smile which floats on his lips, the smile of a young woman who loves and is loved.
The splendor of the model was worthy of the genius of the painter. In none of his portraits did Raphael equal the power of seduction, nor the prodigious mastery of it. Around this charming face, it has accumulated luxurious accessories, jewels, brocades and velvets, as well as in the temples one encircles the idols of precious ornaments. And such is the prestigious skill of the artist that he has been able to leave all these details in half a half-light, and to melt them, so to speak, in a sort of purple cloud on which stands out the delicate and lovely picture.
When one approaches a genius like Raphael, whatever the work, words are powerless to translate the impression felt. Whatever genre he has treated, frescoes, mythological paintings, madonnas, or portraits, he always finds himself equal to himself, that is, superior to all others. He remains unquestionably the prince of painting of all time.
The portrait of Joanna of Aragon inspired enthusiastic pages to the critics of all countries. We shall quote only Theophile Gautier:
“The portrait of Joanna of Aragon,” he writes, “is one of those works which, besides their merit of art, have an attraction of fascination. It is impossible, for those who have seen it once, to forget it. Joanna of Aragon remains in memory as one of those types of feminine perfection that one dreams and despairs to encounter in this life. The princess is represented by three quarters, wearing a chaperon of incarnadine velvet studded with jewels, dressed in a dress of the same material and color, one hand resting on the knee and the other repelling a fold of fur that covers the shoulder. The background is a room of rich architecture opening on the gardens. The head, framed by long wavy and puffy blond hair, is distinguished by the aristocratic finesse and the patrician elegance of the type. It is a princely beauty in all the force of the word, and the imagination would place a royal coat of arms beside her, even if one does not know that one has before her eyes Joanna of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and married to the prince Ascanio Colonna, constable of Naples. Happy Ascanio, to have possessed the original of such a copy! The hands, of extreme purity, are the most beautiful that can be seen, and the warm richness of the velvet still shows their whiteness.”
It is said that Raphael would not have painted his model after nature, and that he would have sent one of his pupils to Naples to prepare the portrait for him; he would only have executed his head with his own hand. The rest would have been completed by Jules Romain, according to the master’s cardboard. But time has passed its harmonious thumb on the whole and it is very difficult today to distinguish the work of the master from that of the disciple. Jules Romain is himself a painter of the first order, and when, for the devotion of a pupil, he is absorbed in the personality of Raphael, believe that he spoils nothing. Moreover, it is not rash to assert that Raphael himself had to supervise all the details of the execution.
This magnificent portrait, painted about 1518, was offered to Francis I by Cardinal Bibienna, who sent him to Fontainebleau. He was placed in the gallery of Apollo under Henry III. He is now in the great gallery of the Louvre, reserved for the works of Raphael.
Height: 1.20 – Width: 0.95 – Half-length, full-size figure.