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    Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna

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    Giovanni Bellini

    Young Woman at her Toilette

    The famous artist Giovanni Bellini dedicates his life’s work almost exclusively to religious motifs. Saints and Madonnas determine his work. Then all of a sudden, at the biblical age of over 80, he paints a young, nude woman. What drives him to do it? Is he paying tribute to a longstanding model for his Madonna pieces at a time when he feels his own life drawing to a close? We have no clear sources but do find strikingly similar Madonnas in Bellini’s portfolio.

    The woman gazes into her looking glass calmly, almost introspectively. She is very much aware of her youth and beauty. So we can dismiss the idea that this is a vanitas (or transience) representation referring to the old age and impending death of the artist.

    The painter guides us to the centre of the composition. Our eyes follow the contours of the mountain range, which flow seamlessly into the shawl on her right upper arm, and wander almost compulsively along her right and left forearms to the mirror on the wall behind. The mirror reflects the only article of clothing she has on: a headscarf with a pearl circlet and diadem. The pearl is the symbol of the goddess Venus and points unquestionably to the identity of the anonymous beauty.