Thursday, July 09, 2015

Queen of the National Gallery

The most memorable portrait in the gallery, this is the visage of the Countess of Tylenol, er... Tyrol. She looks vaguely familiar because she's inspired a number of scary women in illustrated books and cartoons.

I'm thinking of printing it and sticking it on my bathroom mirror to remind me about the horrible wardrobe mistakes we maturing women can make. Not in the possession of aging, withered breasts, I don't have to worry about that one, but the hair and makeup errors are a possibility. Her situation is a clear case when an obscuring veil might have helped.

If this painting isn't a caricature (which I think it is), then it is a tragedy - particularly if the condition was caused by Paget's. As it happens, I know two people who suffered from Paget's disease, both with badly curved spines and backs, but no facial deformities. I'm not sure which would be the lesser of two evils - bent over so you can hardly walk or having your face ruined. Ruined faces I know about from my Acoustic Neuroma group...if your facial nerve is affected during AN treatment it may result in paralysis. The result is very difficult to live with. I was lucky my facial nerve wasn't affected; I could have ended up this way. Experts in facial re-animation can now help people with paralysis and make significant improvements.

From Wikipedia:
"The painting is in oil on an oak panel, and measures 62.4 by 45.5 cm. It shows a grotesque old woman with wrinkled skin and withered breasts. She wears the aristocratic horned headdress of her youth, out of fashion by the time of the painting, and holds in her right hand a red flower, then a symbol of engagement, indicating that she is trying to attract a suitor. However, it has been described as a bud that will 'likely never blossom'. The work is Matsys' best-known painting.
The painting was long thought to have been derived from a putative lost work by Leonardo da Vinci, on the basis of its striking resemblance to two caricature drawings of heads commonly attributed to the Italian artist. However the caricatures are now thought to be based on the work of Matsys, who is known to have exchanged drawings with Leonardo.
A possible literary influence is Erasmus's essay In Praise of Folly (1511), which satirizes women who "still play the coquette", "cannot tear themselves away from their mirrors" and "do not hesitate to exhibit their repulsive withered breasts". The woman has been often identified as Margaret, Countess of Tyrol, claimed by her enemies to be ugly; however, she had died 150 years earlier. In 2008 Michael Baum, emeritus professor of surgery at University College London, suggested that the sitter suffered from a rare form of Paget's disease, in which the victim's bones enlarge and become deformed.
The painting is in the collection of the National Gallery in London, to which it was bequeathed by Jenny Louisa Roberta Blaker in 1947. It was originally half of a diptych, with a Portrait of an Old Man, in the Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, which was lent to the National Gallery in 2008 for an exhibition in which the two paintings were hung side by side.
The portrait is thought to be a source for John Tenniel's 1869 illustrations of the Duchess in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland."

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