Bernardino dei Conti was among the leading portrait painters in late quattrocento and early cinquecento Milan, where he worked for the city's preeminent families. Influenced by the portraits of Leonardo da Vinci and Ambrogio de Predis (c. 1455-after 1508), Bernardino was also inspired by the work of Bartolomeo Veneto, who, in turn, drew from the art of Giorgione. Bernardino's earliest portrait, completed 15 June 1496, depicts the child duke Francesco Sforza (Rome, Pinacoteca Vaticana, inv. 40446). Among the many portraits he painted for the Visconti-Sforza court was a likeness of Francesco's mother, Isabella of Aragon, Princess of Naples (1470-1524), the wife of Gian Galeazzo Sforza, the 6th Duke of Milan (whereabouts unknown).
Between 1508 and 1522 Bernardino was likely in France, where he painted several portraits of Charles II d'Amboise, governor of Milan under Louis XII. There he also came in contact with members of the Milanese Trivulzio family, a number of whom fought on behalf of the French Kings. The present three-quarter-length portrait of an elegant woman in sumptuous costume and elaborate zazara (headdress) has traditionally been identified as a lady from the Trivulzio family and as a pendant to a painting in the Detroit Institute of Arts (inv. 38.80), entitled Gentleman of the Trivulzio Family. This latter identification is based on a third picture by Bernardino, a Portrait of Gian Giacomo Trivulzio (ex-Trivulzio collection, untraced), which is inscribed with the sitter's name and repeats the same unusual background that is found in the two pendants.
The Detroit sitter has sometimes been identified as Camillo Trivulzio (see F. Malaguzzi Valeri, La Corte di Lodovico il Moro, Milan, 1915-1929, III, p. 56, fig. 39), the natural son of Giangiacomo who was legitimized by a certificate of the Conte Palatino, confirmed by Pope Maximilian I. Camillo was a military general for the French and conducted Francis I on his triumphal entry into Milan after the Battle of Marignano in 1515. The striking background may represent the colors of the French Royal house (see P. Trutty-Coohill, op. cit., p. 136). Camillo married Cecilia di Ambrogio del Maino who bore two children, Giangiacomo and Camillo. If the identification of the Detroit picture as Camillo is confirmed, it may be assumed that the present portrait represents his bride Cecilia, the pair of portraits perhaps commissioned on the occasion of their marriage.
Whatever the circumstances of their origin, both the present and Detroit pictures are characteristic works of Bernardino's mature period. The hairstyle of the sitter in the present painting points to a date in the first decade of the 16th century, which is also suggested by the costume of the male sitter. This dating is further supported by the three-quarter-view format of both works, which was generally eschewed by Milanese artists after 1500 in favor of a new model inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's extraordinarily influential Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani (Cracow, Czartoryski Museum, inv. XII-209), painted in the 1490s.
The present painting and its companion panel in Detroit were once in the collection of Princess Mathilde Bonaparte (1820-1904), daughter of Jérôme Bonaparte, King of Westphalia, and niece of Napoleon Bonaparte. She was the former wife of Prince Anatole Demidoff and a cousin of Emperor Napoleon III. Nicknamed le plus beau decolleté d'Europe. Princesse Mathilde, herself a talented artist, was celebrated for presiding over one of the most fashionable salons in Paris.
Signature: Inscribed with symbols and 'ANO 37' (lower edge)
W. Suida in Leonardo da Vinci Loan Exhibition, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum, 3 June-17 July 1949, p. 93 under no. 44.
Interior Design, September, 1957, p. 201, illustrated.
P. Trutty-Coohill, Studies in the School of Leonardo da Vinci: Paintings in Public Collections in the United States with a Chronology of the Activity of Leonardo and his Pupils and a Catalogue of Auction Sales, Ph.D. dissertation, Pennsylvania State University, August, 1982, pp. 136, 139, n. 6.
M. T. Fiorio, Per il ritratto lombardo: Bernardino de' Conti, Arte Lombarda, LXVIII/LXIX, 1984, p. 51, under n. 45.
Princess Mathilde Bonaparte (1820-1904), Paris.
Private collection, Frankfurt, by 1949.
(Possibly) with T. P. Grange, London, 1955.
with French & Co., New York, 1957.