Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano - inv. 1588
The subject of the painting is not certain because attributes that would allow the female figure to be identified are missing: the absence of a halo even makes it doubtful that she is in fact a saint. On the other hand, the nature of her face, with its rapt expression, eyes turned upwards and mouth half open, do not make it likely that this is a portrait. Perhaps this painting was part of a larger work, which included the whole figure, identifiable as a possible Saint Cecilia or Saint Catherine. As an alternative, the picture can be considered in the context of the spreading of studies of ideal female images in Venetian sixteenth-century painting. Famous works by Titian belong to this genre, such as, for example, the Flora today conserved in the Palatina Gallery in Florence, and other images of a religious nature, such as Saint Catherine by Bartolomeo Veneto, which the Poldi Pezzoli Museum has a copy of (inv. no. 3511).
The panel has suffered much, as the cracks running through it at the height of the woman’s forehead and chin reveal. The lower part of the painting, then, is the result of an excellent nineteenth-century integration by Luigi Cavenaghi. The quality of the painting, however, is very clear even in its actual state of conservation: the drawing of the regular features of the face, according to an ideal of beauty of classical derivation, is typical of Cima’s works during the first decade of the sixteenth century. The painting was done before 1506, because the German painter Dürer, who was in Venice until that year, knew it. The use of chiaroscuro for defining and exalting the volume of the figure is remarkable, thanks also to the precise indication of the light source, at the top on the left.