Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

A Mystery Lady with Attitude

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

A Mystery Lady with Attitude

Article excerpt



The Frick Collection, 1 E. 70th St. (between Madison and Fifth avenues), Manhattan; 212-288-0700 or

Through July 20. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Admission: $20, seniors (62 and over) $15, students $10. Pay what you wish Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Children under 10 not admitted.

Portraits of unidentified women can be enticingly mysterious. Think of "Mona Lisa" or "Girl With a Pearl Earring." A certain smile, parted lips, a come-hither look are all it takes to excite centuries of curiosity and speculation. Who was she? What was her relationship to the artist?

The answers can sometimes be bizarre, like the claim that Leonardo's enigmatically smiling subject was none other than the artist himself in drag.

Add to this gallery of mystery women "La Schiava Turca" by the Renaissance great Francesco Mazzola, otherwise known as Parmagianino (or "the little guy from Parma"). The portrait in question, currently on view at the Frick Collection, is not so well-known here, but is an icon in Parma, where it normally resides. Its subject is a rosy-cheeked beauty whose direct but playful gaze and half-smile go against Renaissance conventions. She's no passive beauty, no remote object of admiration. She's got attitude.

That she would come to be called "La Schiava Turca," which means "The Turkish Slave," seems like a bad joke. The title was appended in the early 1700s by a clerk who was doing an inventory and who, the story goes, mistook her bulbous hat, or balzo, for a turban and some gold chain in her sleeve for a handcuff.

Historians universally reject this interpretation and agree that the woman, stylishly dressed and accessorized for the 1530s, was almost certainly a noblewoman - if in fact she existed and was not simply an artistic invention.

The Frick, which has made the painting the center of a small exhibit as it did with "Girl With a Pearl Earring" this winter, takes speculation a step further and hazards a guess as to who she was. …

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