5 October 2006 -
7 January 2007

At Home in Renaissance Italy

Exhibition Highlights

Portrait of a Woman and a Man at a Casement

Fra Filippo Lippi
About 1438-40, Florence
Tempera on panel

This is one of the first Italian portraits set in an interior and probably the first double portrait in Italian art. It is thought to depict Lorenzo di Ranieri Scolari and Angiola di Bernardo Sapiti, who wed in Florence in 1436. Though they are married, decorum dictates that their gazes should not meet. She wears elaborate bridal jewellery and dress, and her sleeve is embroidered with the word ‘Loyalty’.

The painting is thought to commemorate the marriage of this couple, a lengthy process which did not depend on one clear-cut public ceremony, but often lasted over a year. The various stages could include a contract (scritta), a betrothal (promessa) and a ring ceremony (annellamento). The latter, a key step in the marriage process, was the exchange of promises between the couple, sealed by a handclasp. It was often accompanied by a ceremony in the bride's home, in which the groom-to-be would give his bride a 'fidelity' ring. She would wear the ring on the fourth finger, which was believed to be connected by a vein directly to the heart. The final stages, the wedding celebrations (nozze), included the consummation of the marriage and the bride's arrival at the husband's house with her trousseau. A church ceremony was not a legal requirement until a Council of Trent decree of 1563.

During courtship, the couple would have exchanged symbolic gifts such as gloves, ribbons, rings and handkerchiefs. The acceptance of a gift indicated a binding commitment and could be used as proof of betrothal in the case of any disputes. The exchange of a kiss was also legally binding and a public acknowledgement of the betrothal.

Portrait of a Woman and a Man at a Casement Enlarge

Lent by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Marquand Collection, Gift of Henry G. Marquand, 1889 (89.15.19)

Click on the images above for more information and an enlargement.