A Roman Lady Frederic Leighton Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Frederic Leighton is among the most famous British artists of the Victorian age, and A Roman Lady was among some of his masterpieces. This particular picture was completed in 1858 in England. It is a portrait of the Italian model Nanna Risi, a lady who also served as the mistress and muse of the famous artist Anselm Feuerbach.

In the portrait, she is depicted with flowing fabric and Neoclassical ornamentation. The model has a high neckline and her left hand across her stomach. This strays far from the erotic style which was common at the time. Although the hand is in a traditionally defensive position, the strong expression on Rissi's face hints that she was exuding strength instead of fear. The figure is the main subject in the picture as there is very little background noise. Some experts have mentioned that the portrait depicts the noblewoman or the femme fatale of the Florentine Rennaisance. Fredric Leighton made several portraits of this particular model, and he seems to have been inspired by both Paolo Veronese and Leonardo Da Vinci.

The most remarkable sign of Leonardo's influence is the thin smile seen on Rissi's face. Veronese's inspiration is seen in the colour combination and the luxurious fabrics depicted. The painting was completed using the oil on canvas method. This method first gained popularity in Europe in the middle ages, and because of the advantages it came with, artists retained it to the neo-classical period. It involved first boiling the oil with resin to create a glossy varnish. This method originated from Buddhist painters and was slowly adapted by European countries. The reason why it gained popularity among painters is that it lasts for long. Also, it takes time to dry, meaning artists have more time to make changes to the paintings.

Although this painting is widely regarded as a masterpiece, it is not Fredric's magnum opus. This title is taken by the Flaming June painting of 1895. The Flaming June shows a sleeping woman dressed in luxurious fabrics, and it was in line with the Victorian fixture on unconscious or dead women. It was also painted using the oil on canvas method, and today, it sits in the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico. There, it is referred to as the Mona Lisa of the southern hemisphere. Some of the other famous paintings by Frederic Leighton include Light of the Harem, Wedded, Old Damascus, The Garden of Hesperides, and The Death of Brunelleschi. A Roman Lady is currently housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.